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

Microsoft's IT department offers some of its own tips and tricks -- and lessons learned -- from its internal roll-out of Windows 8.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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....)




Editorial standards