One of the benefits of being a Microsoft partner is the internal usage rights that are given each year, for both our subscription and competency partners. Being granted these rights is fine, but actually utilising them effectively is something that doesn’t always happen. This multi-part series of posts will focus on helping you stay current with your internal usage of current Microsoft technologies, as well as make it easier to deploy new technologies when they become available. It will also provide some ideas for deploying new software or services internally, which may lead to different conversations you can have with your customers around new business opportunities.
This post will cover what to think about on the client PCs, the second post will be on deciding on what to move to the cloud versus what to keep on premise, the third will cover planning for new server deployments, and the fourth will cover the server software options. The overall goal of this project should be to deploy new technologies that really do provide a better way of working for your company. For those of you who had the opportunity to visit The Big Picture events we just ran in Sydney and Melbourne, and visited the Future Of Productivity area you would have gotten a glimpse of the capabilities that can be provided. This area highlighted solutions that the integration of SharePoint 2010, Exchange 2010, Office 2010, Lync and others can provide. At Microsoft these are technologies that we use every day, so it was great to be able to show them in action.While you may not need all of the capabilities of all of these products, there are certainly elements of each that most businesses would benefit from, regardless of size.
With all of that in mind, the first thing that needs to be done is a check on where your technology is today, and where it needs to go. Do you know what software is running across your company? If you aren’t actively monitoring this, the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit will inventory the machines joined to your domain to give you a starting point, and also something that you can report back on when it comes to showing what you have achieved. In lightly managed client environment where users are running as administrators on their machines, there are always going to be surprises in terms of what has been installed, and the inconsistency of the versions of the software that are installed across the user base.
Do you still have Windows XP installed on some machines? Well, that’s an easy first target, provided there isn’t some specific hardware or software that is preventing these machines from being upgraded. If there are software issues preventing the migration, there are several different approaches we can take to try to remediate the issues. First of all, is there a more recent version of this software available? If yes, then look at what is required to upgrade to the latest version. If not, is it mission critical, and irreplaceable? If it’s just a small utility, or a piece of software that is easily replaced by an alternative, it may not be worth doing any troubleshooting unless someone important is extremely attached to that software. Are there any ways to overcome the reasons why the application can’t run on Windows 7, or even web based applications that are dependent on an older version of Internet Explorer? We have the Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) to help identify and alleviate these issues. I also strongly urge you to take this opportunity to standardise on a 64 bit Windows client and retire instances of a 32 bit OS if possible.
What if these approaches don’t work, and you still have some applications that really do need Windows XP to run effectively? This is where we can start to investigate options such as running the software virtualised in XP mode, or potentially looking at a VDI scenario. You may find that your XP applications also work on Windows Server 2003, you so may be able to run a physical or virtualised instance to deliver the application via Remote Desktop Services, or Terminal Services as it was called back then. These are options that I would view as a last resort, because you are still keeping older products in the mix in your environment, and just avoiding the inevitable upgrades that will need to be done.
You will also need to take into consideration any hardware that may be older or specialised and unsupported on newer operating systems due to driver unavailability, and these can be more difficult to overcome. If it’s a USB device, then XP Mode may again be the answer, as it allows the capture of USB devices in the Windows XP virtual machine, but other device types are more problematic. The best option is to contact the hardware vendor to see what options there are, or if there are alternatives available in the market.
Old versions of Office are the next target for discussion. While there are some who choose to cling to the old familiar file menu based Office 2003 and earlier, there are good reasons to move to Office 2010, even without having a discussion about the updated user interface. Instead I will focus on the integration of Office 2010 with Exchange 2010 and SharePoint 2010, either in the cloud or on premise. With Exchange 2010 and Outlook 2010, you will see that you get the greatest range of features when combining the two latest versions. One of the most useful features for me with Outlook 2010 is being able to connect to multiple Exchange mailboxes across organisations, making it much simpler to stay on top of multiple mail accounts, but of course you may see benefits elsewhere too, such as from conversation actions and quick steps to name a few. When you are using Office 2010 against a SharePoint 2010 server, again there are benefits from being on the latest versions allowing you to be more productive. Unlike the generally universal recommendation to go 64 bit with your new Windows client deployments, with Office 2010 it’s still a safer bet to stay on the 32 bit version due to the number of Office add-ins that people to tend to run without realising it. For more information on 32 bit versus 64 bit Office 2010 deployments check out this information from the Office Resource Kit.
If you have done development work in earlier versions of Office or have other applications interacting with Office, you will need to ensure they are compatible with Office 2010. The two main tools that you want to work with here are the Office Environment Assessment Tool and the Microsoft Office Code Compatibility Inspector to identify likely problem areas so that they can be addressed.
This is really just the starting point for what is required on the client side, as there will be line of business applications and utilities that your company requires, but with the latest versions of Windows and Office installed you will be able to start delivering a better client experience, even before we get around to updating the server capabilities.