Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Upgrading to Windows 7: Easing the Migration

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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.

Volume activation will rear its ugly head.

In XP, with a volume licensing edition and a volume license key (VLK), activation was not an issue for you. All that changed in the Windows Vista timeframe, but if you skipped Vista, there’s an entire paradigm of copy protection and activation management that requires your attention and planning.

Microsoft has made available a Volume Activation Operations Guide that covers:

• the utilities available to manage activation,

• troubleshooting genuine software issues,

• recovering from expired licenses and non-activated crippled systems,

• resolving Windows Genuine Advantage issues that prevent you from installing some additional features,

• managing each method of volume activation available.

Fully understand the many automated deployment options available to you.

There’s an alphabet soup out there of migration and deployment tools. This includes:

• The venerable Windows Deployment Services, the in-the-box deployment solution for client and server machines alike,

• The Windows Automated Installation Kit, which includes the aforementioned User State Migration Tool and an image lifecycle management capability,

• The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, which makes creation of deployment images a snap, including preinstalled applications, and has special features to manage desktop configurations as well.

If you’re installing more than five machines, it’s well worth your time to see how automation can help you do your migration faster and more consistently across all computers in your organization.

Oh, and the users will need to be trained, too.

Windows 7 is a different type of Windows – the taskbar looks different; search is fast and integrated; configuration of personal preferences is different; connecting to networks looks different than in XP and most any other operating system; and some of the visual effects relating to multitasking are brand new to the platform.

Don’t just assume that your users will know what to do. Prepare to answer questions for weeks and months after the initial migration is offer, and consider having a quick-start guide prepared to ease users into their new Windows 7-based systems by showing them how to do several common tasks. These basic tasks include changing wallpaper, making the fonts larger, customizing their desktop, installing a printer, and accessing their saved documents either on their machine or on a remote file system.

Perhaps consider video training as well, as some users are better at seeing processes than reading about them.

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