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Windows XP SP2 has been the default operating system in most enterprises and medium-size business’s for several years now.  Since the release of Windows 7, the question on the minds of many CIOs and IT Manager is “Do I stay on Windows XP or do I make the move?” It’s a very good question that I’ll attempt to shed some light on in this post.

Australian Reaction

Let’s face it. It’s been a long time between drinks and the feeling I get from a lot of IT folks is they are still a bit gun shy about a move to Windows 7. There’s no question that Windows 7 is the best OS release from Microsoft and I get that reaction loud and clear from people I talk to. The main question is how to get to Windows 7. What’s the best way to get there from a deployment perspective? How are your applications going to work? Do I buy new hardware or try and retrofit to my existing hardware. These are not new questions being asked. They just haven’t been asked for quite some time for many IT departments. The feeling I get from most IT departments I’ve spoken to is they want to move; the time is definitely right. It’s just the how which is the biggest question.

How do I get there?

The first thing you need to do in any deployment is plan. This cannot be emphasized enough. What you need to know is what you already have in your environment. A lot of IT folks that I speak to use tools such as System Centre Configuration Manager or other tools to get an inventory of their current hardware fleet. But what if you don’t have a tool such as this in place? The best free tool that I’ve seen and one I recommend often is the Microsoft Assessment Planning Toolkit or MAP version 4.0. MAP can inventory your existing environment and give you details about which machines are capable of running Windows 7. This is a great place to start because you will know immediately if you need to do any upgrades to existing machines or purchase new ones.

I know from talking with customers around Australia that most skipped Windows Vista. There are many reasons for this but it means that most will be making the move from Windows XP.

Windows XP is a 9 year old operating system and mainstream support ended in April 2009 and no more service packs are being created. So if I was an IT Manager I would be asking myself do I want to run my business on an OS that is 9 years old and no longer has any support attached to it. The time is right to start thinking about a desktop OS refresh. But with any OS deployment there is a lot of planning to do. And with the migration to Windows 7 there are some things to consider. First there is a misconception that you can’t upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7. This is true in the sense of a pure upgrade but Microsoft makes tools to help you do an upgrade in place while still preserving the User’s data. Now we know that a lot of organisations will not do an in-place upgrade but The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 can help you migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7 and do it very quickly. All the data is left intact because MDT 2010 leverages the User State Migration Tool 4.0 which supports hard link migration. Data is not moved off the hard drive but instead a hard link is kept during the installation of Windows 7. This not only saves time it does a fresh install of Windows 7 then restores user accounts, files and settings to the correct location on the disk. The USMT 4.0 tool is not only leveraged by MDT 2010. If you are an enterprise and want to do a zero touch installation of Windows 7 then something like System Center Configuration Manager is a good place to start. It leverages the same tools as MDT 2010 but adds the ability to do zero touch deployment.

As with any deployment there are going to be hurdles. One of the major ones is incompatible applications. It seems like every environment has some old custom application that’s been around for years. Windows XP could be tweaked a bit to run some of these applications. But with Windows 7 (which is built on Windows Vista code base) there is less support for MS-DOS based or 16-Bit applications to run natively. With the release of Windows 7 we at Microsoft have made much more progress in the area of application compatibility. For those organisations that I have spoken to they are pleasantly surprised just how many applications they had problems with in the past; just run on Windows 7. But there are going to be those pesky applications that just don’t work. Small to medium business can download for free a complete copy of Windows XP to run in a virtual machine. Windows XP Mode allows older applications to run in an XP virtual machine under Windows 7 and be tightly integrated into the host operating system. If you are an enterprise customer you would more likely be using Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization or MED-V which is part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimisation Pack. This is a subscription service for those customers on Software Assurance. You can also use the Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.5 to evaluate and test your applications prior to deploying Windows 7. MDOP also includes Microsoft Application Virtualization or App-V which allows you to stream applications on demand to users which greatly reduces the impact to the end user and accelerates Windows 7 deployments.

The other major issue is hardware compatibility with drivers. As an IT pro you shouldn’t have to worry because Windows 7 is built on the same code base as Windows Vista so unless you have some really old hardware in your fleet you should be fine. MAP 4.0 can also help you with this because it will check the existing hardware to see if drivers are on the Windows 7 DVD, on Windows Update or available from the manufacturer of the machine.

Given that many organisations in Australia have not moved to Windows Vista they are most likely not going to be familiar with Volume Activation. It hasn’t changed since Windows Vista but it is an area of consideration on how you are going handle activation in your organisation.

The feeling I get in Australia is positive when it comes to the move to Windows 7. Many organisations are well on their way with their deployment cycles. Some have many of their desktops already deployed. The best advice I can give is to stop sitting on the fence and start doing something because Windows XP is past its use by date. Start your planning now, mitigate applications and select the right tool for your business to get the operating system in the hands of your users. They will thank you for IT! Just make sure you spend time on planning and evaluation and you should be able to avoid any nasty surprises!

Jeffa