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Five Windows Vista adoption "Gotchas" and how to get beyond them

Real world tips from Windows Vista early adopters 1

Gotcha #1 - Hardware compatibility
Gotcha #2 - Business applications
Gotcha #3 - In-house developed applications
Gotcha #4 - User Account Control
Gotcha #5 - End user preparation

Operating system migration is one of those things that most of us try to avoid as long as possible. Unlike a new application, the OS touches every aspect of the PC ecosystem, and frankly can be an arduous, time-consuming process. Because the entire PC environment is impacted, it’s critical that every element is tested, that planning is thorough, and that communication is pervasive. It’s no wonder that even the most experienced IT professionals would prefer to let others forge ahead and learn the hard lessons.

However, the operating system is the backbone of the PC ecosystem, and updating the environment from time to time is inevitable. Windows Vista is the first PC operating system designed with infrastructure management as a core capability, and while the adoption process will be challenging, in the long-run we anticipate it will be well worth the effort.

This document is intended to help with some of the most challenging aspects of adopting and deploying Vista in an organization. We’ll make no bones about it—Windows Vista includes some major changes over Windows XP, and consequently you are likely to hit some rough patches along the way. However, we have collected the learnings "from the trenches" of organizations that have adopted Windows Vista, and have surfaced both the challenges and effective resolutions in a real-world setting.

Gotcha #1: Hardware compatibility

Let's face it -- compared to previous versions, Windows Vista requires pretty robust hardware to run properly, especially if you want to take advantage of the advanced visual effects of the Windows Aero™ interface. While the stated minimum requirements are reasonable (512MB RAM), in practice many users find that 2GB of RAM, a good video card and a dual-core processor enhance the performance of a PC running higher end versions of Windows Vista with Aero and other advanced software.

How to deal with it
The first step is to download and run the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor or—if you are evaluating multiple systems—the Windows Vista Hardware Assessment (WVHA) Tool.

The Upgrade Advisor is designed to report the compatibility of a single stand-alone system, and delivers a report detailing the compatibility status of your hardware and software (See Figure 1).

1Based on 155 participants in the Microsoft TAP program

Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor results

Figure 1. Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor results

The WVHA is an inventory, assessment, and reporting tool that takes into account feedback from early adopter IT professionals. The tool helps to locate computers on a network and assess if they are ready to run Windows Vista. The Windows Vista Hardware Assessment Wizard generates custom reports containing both high-level and detailed assessment results, and provides a baseline of which PCs are ready for Windows Vista, and which PCs need modification or an alternative deployment approach.

In most cases, it is probably prudent to plan to adopt Vista with a hardware refresh. Identify the user groups who will benefit from Windows Vista most (typically mobile users and knowledge workers), target these groups for new hardware from the available budget, and plan to migrate these groups in waves. Then as hardware budget frees up and older PCs reach retirement, migrate the balance of the organization that does not have as critical a need. Windows Vista can coexist with Windows XP, joining Windows Server domains and accepting Group Policy control for configuration and management. As more systems are upgraded, and Windows XP is eventually phased out, legacy Windows XP Group Policy settings can be removed from Active Directory.

There are certain circumstances where the security and management aspects of Windows Vista are particularly well suited to the environment, and provide a level of control not available in Windows XP. For example, managing call centers and retail branch locations in a lock-down environment will typically give IT managers the control they need to prevent disruptive events and to ensure end users stay productive. With its expanded Group Policy capability, Windows Vista provides more granular control than Windows XP over settings and configurations, including power management. In these cases, the cost of upgrading the hardware (usually RAM) is justified through greater productivity and security.

One effective way to get around the hardware requirements for Windows Vista is to treat the PC as a terminal or thin client, and host the processing on a central server. This allows a user to access a virtual Windows Vista desktop and x86-based Windows application from hardware that cannot run the software locally. This approach is usually a short-term fix until more-capable PCs become available, but will enable end-users to continue using their existing hardware and applications.

Gotcha #2: Business applications

Application compatibility is one of those really tough challenges when migrating to a new operating system. While most applications written for Windows XP should work fine with Windows Vista, there are often a number of business-critical applications that need an update to function properly. At first blush, this can appear as a blocker to Windows Vista adoption, but several techniques that early-adopters have employed offer some key pointers on how to get around this hurdle to proceed with the deployment.

How to deal with it
The first step is to create a comprehensive inventory of the application portfolio, and the status of each application. Microsoft developed the Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) to aid this effort. With this tool, you can:

  • Analyze your portfolio of applications, web sites, and computers
  • Evaluate the impact of Windows Vista on these applications and web sites
  • Prioritize application compatibility efforts
  • Deploy automated mitigations to known compatibility issues

The Application Compatibility Toolkit also allows you to send and receive up-to-date compatibility information from the Application Compatibility Exchange, a web service that draws information from Microsoft, ISVs, and the ACT community. In addition, Microsoft has created the Application Compatibility Factory (ACF) that connects its enterprise customers with selected partners that deliver high volume, low cost, application compatibility and remediation services.

The next step is to address those critical applications that will not be compatible at the point you wish to deploy Windows Vista. An approach that organizations have successfully used to address this challenge is creating a virtualized instance of a compatible operating system (i.e. Windows 2000 or Windows XP) hosted on a Windows Vista PC using Microsoft Virtual PC 2007.

Gotcha #3: In-house developed applications

For line-of-business applications created by the in-house development team, lead times and resources may prevent compatible versions from being available when Windows Vista is deployed. The challenge is similar to the issue above, but since the resolution is dependent on internal resources, resolving this issue requires a different approach.

How to deal with it
The most important step is to bring the in-house development team in on early Windows Vista deployment planning. This team needs to build version updating into their project plans, and given development timelines, this needs to begin as soon as possible.

Again, the Application Compatibility Toolkit is the place to begin. In addition to identifying the in-house applications and websites that do not work, have minor issues, or have no issues, ACT 5.0 provides new tools for developers to test setup packages, Web sites, and Web applications with Windows® Internet Explorer 7 and identify issues when running as standard users in Windows Vista.

Gotcha #4: User Account Control

We’ve all heard about certain challenges with the new security feature of Windows Vista, User Account Control (UAC), which is designed to prevent malicious software from infiltrating a user’s PC. Apple Computer even poked fun at the feature in an advertisement featuring "PC Guy." But the UAC is a powerful new security feature that will ultimately help IT pros better control the PC environment.

By requiring all users to run in standard user mode, Windows Vista minimizes the ability for users to make changes without explicit consent that could destabilize their computers or inadvertently expose the network to viruses—reducing urgent help desk calls, mitigating the impact of malware, and protecting sensitive data on shared computers.

The challenge for IT pros is that many legacy applications have processes that require administrator privileges, assuming their programs could access and modify any file, registry key, or operating system setting. To avoid disruption and ensure applications work smoothly, some intervention is required to configure these applications to operate in standard user mode.

How to deal with it
There are two aspects to avoiding problems with the User Account Control feature—educating end users on how to respond to UAC prompts and ensuring that applications are configured to run in standard user mode. Windows Vista enables these legacy applications to run in standard user accounts through the help of file system and registry namespace virtualization. When configuring legacy applications, Microsoft recommends that global application installers that expect to run with administrative rights create a separate directory to store their application’s executable files and auxiliary data, and create a key for their application settings. A more detailed description of this process is available at TechNet Magazine: Inside Windows Vista User Account Control.

Gotcha #5: End user preparation

We know it’s inevitable—when you change the PC environment that end-users are working in, there will be a rash of help desk calls and confusion among the less tech-savvy in your organization. Tasks that used to be familiar are now done differently. In most cases, the changes are trivial, but for some users the learning curve seems steep. Of course, the changes were made based on exhaustive research on usability and streamlining common tasks, but getting from "here to there" can itself be disruptive.

How to deal with it
Perhaps the best way to prevent disruption, reduce help desk calls and accelerate the path to productivity is to communicate early and often how common tasks will be performed in the new environment. Ensure that end-user training is part of the project plan, and serve up chunks of content in digestible pieces.

Organizations that have successfully migrated large groups have laid a foundation early in the process so end-users know what to expect on the first day they sit down with their new PC environment. They provide an overview of changes, but also provide a list of "top 10 changes" on how common tasks maybe performed. Equally important is communicating why the new environment will improve their productivity—you need to secure end-user buy-in, so they embrace the change and take personal responsibility for getting up to speed. A resource that can be valuable in this process is the Enterprise Learning Framework. The Enterprise Learning Framework (ELF) is a tool that helps corporations develop a training and communication plan for employees during Windows Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office system deployment. The ELF identifies the most relevant learning topics on Windows Online Help and Office Online for different stages of deployment and different types of users. With the Enterprise Learning Framework you can:

  • Minimize concern by preparing employees for deployment and raising awareness of the new versions’ benefits
  • Minimize disruption on deployment day by getting employees up to speed with a short list of "must know" topics
  • Select tips-and-tricks and other productivity topics to help employees get the most from Windows Vista and the 2007 Office release after deployment

On the day of migration, successful organizations send out an introductory email that highlights the new features and provides step-by-step guidance on both common tasks and harnessing new capabilities. If you have the resources, creating short how-to guides will go a long ways towards easing users into their new environment.

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