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
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
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
How to deal with it
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
How to deal with it
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
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
Gotcha #5: End user preparation
How to deal with it
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:
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.