You’ve decided to upgrade to Windows XP and Office XP and have even mapped out the best deployment method for your organization. Next, you must examine additional considerations, such as configuration approaches and print driver compatibility issues, before developing a detailed project plan and beginning the actual PC upgrade work.

Choosing the Office bundle
Office XP comes in several flavors, but there are just two that will likely appeal to most organizations: Standard or Professional. The difference between the two is the inclusion of Access with the Professional suite. If Access not going to be widely used, I recommend sticking with the Standard suite.

If you plan to have Office preinstalled from a manufacturer, your options are the Professional with Publisher or Small Business editions, both of which include Publisher in the suite. Click here for a list of participating manufacturers.

Microsoft provides some assistance in selecting which suite will work best for your organization.

Reasons for a standard configuration
Development of a standard configuration for Windows XP and Office XP will need to take into account the business, technical, cultural, and regional requirements from the divisions within your organization.

The business or technical drivers are easy to address, the cultural ones aren’t as easily resolved. These cultural issues include whether you should disable games, lock down the PC environment, and/or install multiple languages. Each of these issues could warrant its own article, but I believe that one simple motto can be used as a guiding principle for all such decisions: “Don’t use technology to solve people problems.”

I favor having one base configuration that works for everybody, even if it may be overkill for some. For example, perhaps some clients need Microsoft Photo Editor or the Office Shortcut Bar, and others don’t. For simplicity’s sake, it’s far easier to include all the components rather than create separate configurations based on varying client requirements.

To Outlook or not to Outlook?
Despite what Microsoft would like us to believe, not everybody in the world is running Exchange for back-office messaging. Lotus Notes and Novell GroupWise also factor into the mix.

That’s why I vote yes on installing Outlook, which can work well with both back-office systems. Microsoft recently released the Outlook 2002 Connector (for Notes), and Novell claims GroupWise 6.5 will provide “full” Outlook compatibility.

Some or all of your clients may wish to use the functionality of Outlook, even when the organization is not an Exchange shop. My recommendation is to include Outlook in your base configuration, even if its functionality is deferred to a future date.

Dealing with overlapping projects
Adequate resources are key to successfully changing your organization’s operating system and office productivity suite. If there are a significant number of projects underway, those projects will likely compete for the limited pool of internal and external IT resources available. When faced with such a situation, your options are to find more (or different) resources, or reschedule the project to a more opportune time.

When taking into account people resources, don’t focus on only one portion of the team, such as the project manager. Consider help desk staff, trainers, testers, and communications specialists and allocate the necessary resources.

Print driver incompatibility issues
As recent TechRepublic member e-mail has clearly illustrated, a big integration hurdle revolves around print drivers for Windows NT/2000 that are incompatible with XP.

All of the print servers throughout the organization will need to be upgraded with new drivers. Before upgrading, it’s a good idea to do a complete inventory of networked printers, cross-referenced by server. Once this is done, the arduous task of updating all print drivers across all the print servers must be undertaken.

Interface issue with Citrix/Terminal server
If your organization is using Citrix/Terminal Server, the user interface is either Windows NT or Windows 2000. There is no Windows XP client for Citrix. This means that clients accessing a Citrix environment will have a different interface than the default interface for their Windows XP desktop. Clients will either have to live with the differences or configure the XP desktop to appear as a Windows 2000 desktop if the two interfaces are too confusing.

Testing for application compatibility
Application compatibility testing is one of the biggest challenges; there are potentially hundreds of applications installed within any organization that will require testing.

Automated tools, such as Microsoft’s SMS or Novell’s ZENworks, can be used to detect and report on all applications installed on client PCs and can be a great asset.

Remember that not all of the detected applications are necessarily “core” to the business; you’ll need to assess the necessity to test each one. I estimate that most organizations will determine that they have 10 to 12 “core” applications within their environments that will require complete product testing with respect to the XP environment.

Work with clients to determine which applications are required to run under Windows XP; those that don’t should be uninstalled. Once identified, these applications need to be certified as Windows XP-compatible, either from the software developer, Microsoft, or by internal testing. Some applications may have to be upgraded for Windows XP certification.

Microsoft’s Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) is but one of a collection of tools and documents that enable both application developers and IT professionals to resolve application compatibility issues. Technical staff involved in the project should avail themselves of the tools available from Microsoft.

Determine hardware upgrades and replacements
Based on minimum system requirements (Pentium 600-MHz/256 MB RAM/2 GB free disk), you must do a comprehensive hardware inventory detailing which PCs meet these requirements.

Using this inventory, you can then determine how many PCs would require upgrading and or replacing. Both of these issues must be addressed before an overall project budget can be determined. Once the hardware upgrade/replacement quantity is determined, shop around for pricing. Then, factor delivery and prep into the project plan.

In addition to the PC upgrades, additional testing will need to be done on peripherals to ensure they’ll continue to function under the Windows XP operating system; this includes PDAs, printers, scanners, and others. An excellent utility for investigating hardware compatibility is the Windows XP Upgrade Advisor.

Companion products
Applications that are associated with Microsoft Office must be upgraded in order to ensure full compatibility. Such applications include:

  • Visio
  • Project
  • Access
  • FrontPage
  • Publisher
  • PhotoDraw
  • MapPoint
  • Data Analyzer

It’s a stretch to state that all companion products must be upgraded, but capitalizing the cost of such upgrades into the overall project cost makes good sense.

Who’s going to pay?
Finally, before any real integration and upgrading begins, it’s a good move to make sure it’s clear who’s paying for what. Costs for upgrading applications to function properly under Windows XP must be considered. Determining who will pay can be a thorny issue for both IT and the business.

It’s best to develop a general policy—for instance, that upgrade costs will be shared among business units or be paid from IT budgets—rather than dealing with each separate application upgrade separately.

The next step
Your organization will have a slightly different set of concerns to grapple with when it comes to the XP migration than others. My list of issues is long, but you’ll likely add more specific issues to this list.

Coming up, I’ll focus on XP project planning and examine the various issues that should be incorporated into the plan—testing, capital costs, project team composition, and communications. If you have any specific questions or dilemmas relating to XP migration, please send them in, and I’ll try to answer them in upcoming articles.

Missed the first step in XP migration?

Author Ric Liang’s XP series began with an article on how CIOs can make the case to upgrade to XP.