Microsoft IT: How we rolled out Windows 8 to 30,000 users

Microsoft IT: How we rolled out Windows 8 to 30,000 users

Summary: Microsoft's IT department offers some of its own tips and tricks -- and lessons learned -- from its internal roll-out of Windows 8.


IT pros and C-suite execs worrying about the learning curve Windows 8 may present to users might be able to take a few cues from Microsoft's own IT organization.

In an August 7 post to its "Office of the CIO" blog, Microsoft detailed some of the lessons it learned when rolling Windows 8 test builds out to its own users.

As of mid-July, Microsoft had more than 30,000 systems and nearly 30,000 employees running Windows 8 and IE10, blogged Patrick O’Rourke, a Director within the strategy, planning and communications team in Microsoft IT. (I'm kind of surprised, and kind of not that this number wasn't a lot higher, given Microsoft has more than 90,000 employees....)

Windows 8 is very different from previous versions of Windows, in terms of its look and feel, the way it is navigated and the way it runs existing and new applications. A number of business users are leery of training costs and other potential issues introduced by a new, touch-first operating system.

Even though Microsoft developers are the ones who created Windows 8, it's worth pointing out that not all of Microsoft's employees are techies. Microsofthas a substantial number of information workers who are not engineers who are using Windows, as well. To help the whole spectrum of employees learning the new OS, Microsoft IT created a new, internal moderated forum/Web app called //pointers, designed to address feedback and requests for help more quickly.

"When reviewing the site traffic to //pointers, we saw that site visits greatly exceeded the number of unique users," O'Rourke noted.  "We interpreted this site traffic as positive; the site is sticky and employees are coming back to it. In addition, the volume of recognition badges indicated that, once driven to the community, employees tend to contribute in helping others."

Here's a sample screen of what users see when they come to Pointers site:



The case study on Microsoft's Windows 8 deployment by its IT department offers more on the hows and whys behind Pointers:

"Microsoft IT saw the opportunity to fill the gaps in the existing support channels by creating a new self-help channel in time for the Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 Developer and Consumer Previews. Microsoft IT envisioned a social networking forum that would use and showcase the capabilities of the Windows 8 operating system, address some of the limitations of the existing support channels, and foster community spirit within Microsoft. Microsoft IT hoped a friendly, moderated forum would reduce the volume of help-desk calls while increasing the nontraditional feedback needed to drive improvements."

What else did Microsoft IT do to try to make Windows 8 deployment go more smoothly?

  • Used IT Easy Installer to streamline the install experience by automating everything for the user to migrate to Windows 8. "We cut the install time in half, which included the Office image" installation, O'Rourke said.
  • Provisioned 75 devices with Windows To Go (the Windows desktop on a stick) and made them available to senior staff, engineers, and architects. "Windows To Go scenarios include providing a managed corporate desktop when the host computers are unmanaged or not domain-joined," O'Rourke explained. "This deployment allowed different machines (slate, laptop, and desktop) with different configurations of screen, keyboard, and touch to have a machine-specific experience that was highly transportable between host machines."
  • Used the File History feature built into Windows 8 to periodically scan Windows 8 users' file systems for changes stored in libraries and in the user's Desktop, Favorites, and Contacts folders and copying them to a Microsoft IT-managed network drive configured as their backup storage area. "Enterprise customers will be able to customize this solution for their own environment," O'Rourke said.

Not every IT shop will have the means or interest to build its own self-help desk. But for those interested in Windows 8 in any meaningful way, it might be worth considering....

Other tips and tricks you IT pro readers would suggest for those worrying about Windows 8 corporate deployments? (And skip the "just don't do it" comments. We already know many of you feel that way....)




Topics: Windows, IT Priorities, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Just Pass On It

    That's the best advice for any company.
    • Just pass on you

      That's the best advice for any company.
      • You beat me to it

        I had the same thought.

        As did 99% of the people here.
        William Farrel
        • I would rather say 100% of the people here think the same way

          because until he decides to have something intelligent to say, I don't count him as part of the living.
    • Sorry, you lose

      Ha. Little do you know. Looks like |Windows 8 is going to be a gar far bigger success story than you would like itguy10.

      Too bad for you I guess.

      So sad...too bad.
      • Just Pass

        I would take away from this article that Win8 is going to be the training nightmare that most are expecting. How many companies are going to go to that expense just to run windows 8? Not many. IT budgets are always tightfisted things, and rarely do corporate management see progressive training in a positive light. Normally the answer to upgrade plans is, "Why do we need to upgrade? Or systems work as they are"

        I'm hardly in any 99 or 100% of people who will adopt Windows 8. We're passing.
        • ?

          "I would take away from this article that Win8 is going to be the training nightmare that most are expecting."

          I find this statement almost on every post about Win8. Ironically it is only "IT Pros" that say this. Have ANY of them even showed it to users? I took a laptop here at work, dropped the W8RP on it and took it to my most difficult users. It took them each a few minutes to get moving. They LOVED the new start screen. They where a bit confused the 1st time they pressed the start button. But once I told them that the start menu is now full screen and that the mouse still works the same (Bottom left for start) they where going full steam ahead.

          We will not be going to Win 8 due to us just finishing the move to 7. However 8 is not NEARLY as bad as the doom sayers are making it out to be. Just as that so called "Y2K bug" that everyone freaked out about... yet my old 486DX2 was Y2K compliant...

          They also said Win95 would be the end of MS and the rise of Linux...

          Sorry, I have no issues with Win 8, in fact I can't wait for the Volume License to come so I can load it on my machine at work.

          Anyway have fun. Fly Safe.
          • @IceQ: Good to see someone else here who gets it

            I don't get all these supposed "IT Pros" who seem to think it is too difficult to learn anything new, or it is too difficult to teach "users" how to use something new.

            The only conclusion I can come to is that some people would rather spend their days on forums like this, whining about how hard it is to learn anything new, instead of actually doing a little bit of work and trying to learn something new every once in awhile.

            I'm just glad that the people I deal with in real life are nothing like the supposed "IT Pros" on these forums.

      • Religion

        Hey Cayble dude, answer me this. Why do you, and so many other commenters here, want to make this personal? Like Win8 being a success is something you personally gain from and those of us who don't like it and think it's a bad idea are somehow defeated by you and you get some glorious victory over us if Win 8 is a success. What is up with that? It's a computer OS! It's an interface! If you can get your work done or play your games or support your users, who gives a crap?

        Same thing goes for tablets and everything else. It it works FOR YOU, enjoy it. If you have to use it for work, then deal with it whether you like it or not. If you hate it, tell Ballmer by not personally buying it. Everyone else can make their own decisions.

        I have 250,000 desktops to deal with. 245,000 of them are still on XP because mission critical enterprise software doesn't yet work with IE 8, and Windows 7 can't load IE6 or 7. Nevermind my personal preference for Chrome, the fact that these commercial web plug-ins require Internet Explorer and aren't fully functional on version 8, let alone 9 or 10 means there won't be any fast upgrade to Windows 7 here and nearly guarantees that Windows 8 will be locked out entirely. Nevermind the need to retrain hundreds of thousands of non-technical employees who just need to get work done efficiently and can't if they aren't able to easily use the interface. Nevermind the cost to upgrade and having to justify the return on investment. Nevermind the over 2000 software applications we manage via electronic distribution that may have to be repackaged and re-QA tested and re-User Acceptance Tested to go on a new OS.

        If you think resistance to a major OS change is because I'm a fanboy of an outdated interface and just need to get hip to the new interface formerly known as "Metro", then you are just not very knowledgeable about very large enterprise environments. You're probably a smart guy, but you don't know what you don't know.

        Too bad for you I guess. :-)
        • Mission Critical

          Why would a CIO continue to let a company rely upon a "mission critical" peice of software from 10 years ago and NOT have it updated? If it's difficult to change the code, you have really bad software design and whomever programmed it should be fired for incompetance. Then you need to hire new engineers and get this fixed asap. Otherwise this argument just smells lazy shop to me.
          • Lazy Shop

            Garfina, the software is medical in nature and is from a major vendor. "Whomever programmed it" is not some geek in a back closet drinking Red Bull all day. I don't want to disclose the name of the company but they are Dutch and they are a very diverse company who co-holds patents in such things as Compact Disc licensing. The software in question is related to x-ray imagery. However, you're right. It should be updated and in fact it has been. However, the update has problems with certain functions not working properly, so doctors can't use it. Meanwhile, this goes back and forth between vendor, software deployment, doctor, back to software deployment, back to vendor and so on. It's not our engineers involved and there are a lot of regulatory hoops this stuff has to go through. So you can say it smells like a lazy shop all you want, and maybe it is, but it's not our shop that has the lazies.

            Again, you folks that glibly spew this crap out don't seem to know really big enterprise. I'm sure there are bigger shops than mine, but there are few that are as big, and few that are as regulated. You got 5,000 desktops? BFD. 30,000? OK, that's one region for me.
          • Well said

            Good on you Joe. Too many people think that IT is there so the geeks can play with new toys, rather than supporting a profitable business. You don't tear down your office buildings and rebuild them just because they're ten years old. Many bank systems core architecture is thirty plus years old, but it works, and replacing it would be a nightmare.
          • Maybe you can try Linux!!!

            Because I'm sure all your problems will go away then (not!!). Why not acknowledge that XP has done sterling service but it's now time to move on and admit that it's not Microsoft screwing up here but Philips (oh sorry but I can guess a name).
            As for the general upgrade experience, once again Microsoft has delivered you 10 years of value from XP, that should be enough for any reaonable customer in a fast moving area like IT. Now it's time to move on because XP is finally reaching end-of-Microsoft-support-life and it's either Windows 7 or 8 from here.
          • Mr Foerster....

            Thank you, you have said exactly what I have been trying to get all of the winbois to understand. In a major organization, jumping to a new, untested OS with a completely different UI is a non-starter. Ain't gonna happen, especially in the healthcare industry with all of the testing and regulatory requirements.

            While I personally despise Microsoft and pretty much all of their products, they are the backbone of business world wide. While most days I would love to use my work station for skeet practice, I am really glad their software is difficult to administer and set up, job security :) .

            I know no one that enjoys using Windows, it is like a necessary evil, they just want to get their work done so they can go home and use their iPad :)

          • Then why...

            If you run desktop infras that simply cannot be upgraded for what ever reason, why are you complaining about W8 not having a start button in the same place it was before? Why MS should care about a customer who is not going to upgrade anyway?

            I understand there are a few cases in the world where this is true but the only way is to rewrite some code and that must just happen sooner or later. Changes can be always bought.
          • Despise Microsoft?

            So there you have it. You "despise Microsoft." Is it any surprise then that you are here criticizing MS and making excuses for why people shouldn't upgrade to Windows 8?

          • The CIO doesn't run the company!

            There is no "letting" the business rely on old or outdated software. The CEO makes that decision! And it is all about the money.

            Issue 1: State provides software for providing proof of compliance with state regulations. Software runs on DOS 5.0. Got that warehouse of older hardware to keep it running.

            Issue 2: Multi-year project, 12 years, that is moving multiple systems across multiple divisions to a common platform. Discovered 1 year after project starts is that several of the portions to be replace in years 10-12 have software (required support apps) that require Win NT 4. (This is well after we deployed Win XP. But hey, if no one reports back that they have NT4 systems in a closet to manage their app it's hard for anyone to address.) At least the Win NT 4 Workstation VM works so no need to stockpile hardware.

            Issue 3: Custom production line systems (from outside vendors) and testing equipment have software that run them which require an OS other than current. The business is not interest in spending the money to replace these working systems. The directive is to "keep them working." Note that the vendor may not exist anymore or they will not update the software for older systems.

            Issue 4: Internal software update cycle of a major internal application which includes web access. It is done in modules with about 1/4 of the modules updated each year which means it takes 4 years to upgrade all of the components of the application. So Windows 7 comes out and it is 2 years before all the vendor supplied tools are upgraded. (No the business is not interested in paying for a rapid upgrade. Make it work.)

            These are a some of the issues which are why we have older OSs or browser platforms (or other things) in use. But it all comes down to cost, cost, cost...
          • re mission critical

            Because the boss (call him what you like) sees his mission critical software works for his company, no matter how old it is. So why spend money. If it ain't broke then don't fix it. One of the first things you learn in a corporate it support environment.
        • @JoeFoerster: Response

          I hear what you are saying, and I've been in the situation you are in plenty of times. However, to me, it seems the bottom line is that Windows 8 doesn't suck, just because you find yourself in a position where you cannot upgrade. Windows 8 is not "too difficult to learn" just because you are in a position to upgrade. Windows 8 is not a "failure," just because you are not in a position to upgrade.

          I have to wonder what people like you expect. Given that you cannot upgrade off of XP because you have vendor software that will not work properly, what do you expect the rest of the world to do? Should we all be stuck on XP forever, just because you can't upgrade? Should Microsoft not release ANY new software at all until the day you are ready to upgrade? Why do you expect the rest of the world to wait for you?

          You know, my car is a few years old. But I am still very happy with my car. It still runs like new, doesn't have many miles on it, and it suits my needs in every respect. Do you think I go around to car forums telling everyone how all the newer car models suck, just because I am not ready to upgrade my car? Do you think I have to go to forums and cut down everyone who says the like the newer car models better than the older car model that I have, just because I can't afford to buy a new car right now?

          I just don't get what it is about people who think everyone in the world has to be held back just because they are not ready to do something. If you can't upgrade off of XP, or you can't buy a new car, or a new TV or whatever, then just live with it. If other people are in a position to buy a new car, or a new TV, or a new OS for their computer, then let them do it, and live with it.

    • I will pass on it

      Right on, itguy10