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9/24/2009
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What CIOs Think About Windows 7

Most are doing some testing, but many have no firm deployment plans.

Microsoft Learns Its Lessons

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer struck a defiant tone when speaking to financial analysts this summer about the upcoming Windows 7 release. "I think many of you think we have problems we don't have in the Windows business," Ballmer said.

Still, Microsoft does seem to have learned the hard lessons of Vista. For example, Microsoft early on promised Vista would have a whole new file system, which it then didn't deliver. With Windows 7, the company kept mum on features until it was sure; there was no mid-development overhaul this time. To avoid the reputation Vista earned for incompatible software and hardware, Microsoft released new or improved compatibility testing tools for Win 7 to software vendors, system manufacturers, and even companies looking to upgrade.

In terms of customer complaints about Vista, "there was a lot to go around," acknowledges Jon DeVaan, Microsoft's senior VP of Windows core OS. "The biggest part of that was that we had to work differently. We had to be a more reliable partner, and we had to deliver higher quality."

Microsoft also is offering a number of new or upgraded free tools to help companies work through their deployment cycle, including an asset management tool, the application compatibility tool, and a deployment tool to help with data migration from XP machines.

That's one source of Win 7 complaints--companies can't upgrade directly from XP to Win 7; it requires a full install. To keep all the programs and settings in a move from XP to Windows 7, large companies can use Microsoft's User State Migration Tool or its System Center Configuration Manager. Smaller customers will need to back up individual PC data elsewhere and use the Windows Easy Transfer tool. Microsoft also advises companies upgrading from XP to Windows 7 to do compatibility testing with the Application Compatibility Toolkit.

Having skipped Vista, Del Monte this time is working closely with Microsoft to ensure application compatibility, using Microsoft tools to determine if software is attempting to write data to directories or make calls to files that no longer exist in Windows 7. With help from a Microsoft engineer, it developed what it calls "shims" to force otherwise incompatible programs to run on Win7. The company also has worked to create a formal XP-to-7 upgrade process using System Center Configuration Manager that takes about 30 minutes for a full upgrade, leaving users' files and documents as they were.

Still, with Vista's application compatibility problems still fresh in mind, and the huge XP installed base, the Windows 7 feature that companies plan to use above all others is one that lets them hedge their bets: XP Mode.

XP Mode, a virtualized instance of XP that runs alongside Windows 7, lets companies run applications that break under Vista or Windows 7. The end user can load those applications like any other, from an icon on the desktop or via the start menu.

KSLA's Robinson sees XP Mode as a good option for running applications that have trouble printing from Internet Explorer 8, which comes bundled with Windows 7. "From what I've been able to do in my testing, I have not found anything that wouldn't be able to work in the XP virtual machine," he says.

Yet some may find XP Mode less useful than they'd hoped. First, it requires that a full version of XP be installed on any PC that uses it. Second, Microsoft is aiming XP Mode mostly at consumers and small businesses and hasn't included management tools; XP Mode has to be installed and managed at each individual PC. Third, it requires an extra 1 GB of RAM beyond initial Windows 7 system requirements.

For large deployments, companies will have to be Software Assurance customers and shell out extra money per client to access the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack and Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization, or MED-V, which includes management features. Another possibility, also included in MDOP, is Microsoft's App-V application virtualization technology.

The App Compatibility Test

Application compatibility looks much further along than at the same point in Vista's release, but it remains a major concern: It's the second biggest barrier to upgrading, according to our survey. After all, Windows 7 was built on the same code base as Vista, so if an application still doesn't work on Vista today, it more than likely won't work on Windows 7.

And there are some kinks still to be worked out. Symantec, for example, is working to fix an endpoint security software incompatibility that creates a prompt showing a Windows 7 PC isn't secured when in fact it is. Del Monte is one of several companies that cited this specific problem as holding back plans to move to Vista right away.

Older industry-specific and financial apps often are a problem, as companies need to weigh whether it's worth rewriting the app to be compatible with a new operating system. "In Vista, your only choice was to fix the app," says Tony Scott, CIO of Microsoft, which already has rolled out Windows 7 to more than 100,000 employees and contractors. "However, today there's a lot of different virtualization technologies you can use to mitigate against those issues, so it's not a binary go, no-go kind of thing."

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