Upgrading to Windows 7: Easing the Migration

Issues like hardware refresh, deploying thin clients and choosing a migration tool need to be evaluated.
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Windows 7 will have been out for two years this coming summer, and many organizations are evaluating it as the base operating system for their desktops for years to come, usurping XP’s earned place in the enterprise.

But migrating to a new OS, particularly in a business scenario, is a complex process fraught with obstacles. Additionally, there are ancillary things to consider as you step back and look at the entire plan from top to bottom.

Here are some suggestions on issues you may encounter, and some ways around them, as you embark on planning your migration to Windows 7.

Start your Windows 7 migration planning now.

If you never deployed Windows Vista, that might end up being a good thing for you. Windows 7 is widely acknowledged to be a fine, stable operating system, and the first service pack will be available soon. Once XP reaches end-of-life status, Microsoft will only provide critical security fixes—you won’t be able to contact them for issues and help and there won’t be any more service packs.

Times change, applications change, and if you’re not looking at moving to a more modern OS platform as your base right now, it should absolutely be priority one for you.

Plan for a hardware refresh.

This one is pretty straightforward – as you might imagine, new operating systems have different hardware profiles. Windows 7 runs very comparably to Windows Vista on the same hardware, but if you’re still lumbering along on PCs from circa 2003 or 2004, then you’re going to want to plan to invest in more capable hardware.

In addition, newer hardware has much better management features and power usage, so your running cost of operation may decrease. This brings me nicely to the next point, which is…

Consider thin-client or managed terminals (a virtualized desktop infrastructure) for future purchases.

It seems like we went from mainframes and dumb terminals to thick, smart desktop clients, but now for many office workers the technology is there to deliver a thick-client-like experience using very thin clients and the remote desktop protocol (RDP). Aiding this fact are the new multimedia features being made available through Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 2’s RemoteFX feature.

By centralizing your users’ desktops on a cluster or farm of terminal services, you have much more control over the update and refresh cycles, which makes an OS migration much easier – it removes hardware, for one, from the equation, and gives you a known base against which to test. This tip may not pay off immediately for you in your XP-to-something migration quest, but it would most assuredly make future moves simpler and cheaper.

Consider application virtualization for stubborn legacy programs.

We all know of those line-of-business programs we’ve built an entire organization around – the one from 1997 with no updates that simply refuses to work on Windows Vista or Windows 7, even with the compatibility shims.

The good news is that today, there exist solutions that allow these applications to be virtualized and run in their own legacy operating system and delivered alongside a more modern platform like Windows Vista or Windows 7. Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) is one, and others are available from Citrix and other virtualization providers.

This way, you can continue running only your stubborn LOB application in a “legacy sandbox” and still get the appreciable benefits of a more contemporary, and supported, operating system for everything else.

Get to know the User State Migration Tool.

This piece of software, free with a purchase of Windows, sets up individual XML files to control very granularly exactly which accounts, files for each user, system settings, and application configurations are migrated – and how each of those elements is migrated, too. What’s particularly nice, though, is that you can perform both a hardware refresh migration, where you load things from one machine to another, and only-OS refreshes, where just the OS changes and the device stays the same, with this utility.

Don’t forget about Internet Explorer 8 versus whatever browser you are using. If you’re coming from Windows XP, your users may depend on intranet applications that were designed in the age of Internet Explorer 6, with its various compatibility tricks, special layouts, use of popups, and more. IE 6 definitely was non-compliant in many of its display areas, where IE7 and later versions really tried to bring the browser into a world of properly applied web standards.

The only way around this particular niggle is to make sure you verify these web applications perform as expected on a Windows 7 test system, or perhaps use a different browser – or consider writing the web app in a way that supports compliance with proper HTML standards.


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Tags: upgrading, Vista, Windows 7, Windows XP, thin client


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