Windows 7 migration: All systems go

Once you've decided to migrate your users to Windows 7, you need to execute that decision. Here's some practical advice on how to go about it

Having examined the relative merits of staying put or migrating to Windows 7, and evaluated the costs, you've decided that Microsoft's latest Windows desktop is definitely the way to go. Here, we look at some of the practical steps needed to turn that decision into a reality.

It takes teamwork
As already mentioned in our article on costing, one of the first — and arguably most important — practical steps required is to put together a team to manage the migration process.

The more resources you can garner here the better — which could mean buying in expertise on a contract basis, or outsourcing some of the work involved. Either way, it's important to be realistic about the time it's all going to take. Equally you need to give the migration team sufficient resources to understand and practice the procedures required, which could mean brushing up their skills (check out the Microsoft Learning website for details), equipping them with test systems, identifying pilot sites and acquiring tools to help with desktop rollout.

Unfortunately, by itself, Windows 7 doesn't include a lot to help with deployment. This may not be a problem in a small company where individual desktops can be migrated one at a time, and setting up automated procedures may take longer than doing the job manually. However, surveys of organisations that have been through the process clearly show the need for automation, with advantages to be gained where as few as 10-15 PCs are involved.

Bear in mind also that it's a fairly involved process. For example, there's no simple in-place upgrade from XP to Windows 7, which means having to install the new OS from scratch, and then migrate applications and user settings. Moreover, even if you're upgrading from Vista it may be preferable to start again to avoid carrying over problems to the new platform.

Fortunately it's not rocket science, and there are plenty of tools available to help — many of them free, with Microsoft the best point of reference here.

Tools of the trade
Naturally, Microsoft would very much like you and others to switch over to Windows 7. The company has a wealth of experience when it comes to the processes involved, and experience drawn from previous Windows releases have resulted in a host of tools to help automate and manage your Windows 7 rollout.

There's a plethora of individual utilities, each with very specific uses, to choose from, and it can take a while to work out what these various tools do and which you actually need. Fortunately Microsoft has bundled what most companies need to handle Windows 7, and added a lot of useful help and documentation to create several free toolkits, available from the Microsoft Download Center.

Here are the ones we'd recommend:

The Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows 7
A must-have for anyone migrating to Windows 7, the AIK bundles together a number of key tools, including ImageX to capture images of Windows systems and a utility known as DISM (Deployment Image Servicing and Management) to customise those images ready for deployment. Also in the kit are the Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE) 3.0 for installing, troubleshooting and recovering Windows 7 systems, the latest User State Migration Tool (USMT) to transfer user settings and Windows Deployment Services, a Windows Server 2008/R2 role to actually do the deployment.

The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) 2010
Described as a 'solution accelerator', MDT 2010 provides a framework for using the deployment tools in the Windows AIK and Windows 7 operating system, with wizards to help automate common tasks plus lots of useful help and advice.

The Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit 5.0
Another 'solution accelerator', MAP 5.0 includes tools to capture hardware and software inventory information from Windows PCs, without the need to install additional agents. It can also analyse the captured data and assess systems for Windows 7 readiness.

Of course, you may already have tools to...

...take inventories, capture and distribute system images, migrate user data and so on. The Microsoft toolkits are still worth having, though — if only for the associated migration guides and other bundled documentation, and to plug the gaps in third-party tools not specifically tuned to handle Windows 7.

Compatible or not?
Then there's the little matter of applications, drivers and other software needed to handle peripherals, such as printers, scanners, Wi-Fi connectivity and the like. Making sure these are all compatible with the new OS is another key task and one that, again, Microsoft and others can help with.

Checking hardware for compatibility is fairly straightforward: install the device or hook it up to a Windows 7 PC and see if it works. Beyond that, check to see if there's a built-in driver or, if not, whether the vendor has one on their website. Most will, or at least will be able to advise on compatibility where issues arise — and, of course, sell you something new if necessary.

Testing applications is much harder because incompatibilities don't always manifest themselves straight away, and may only appear in specific circumstances. Here, again, Microsoft has free tools to help, including the MAP Toolkit mentioned earlier.

There's also a downloadable Excel spreadsheet that lists almost 20,000 applications and their status in terms of Windows 7 compatibility testing. This is the somewhat unimaginatively titled Windows 7 Application Compatibility List for IT Professionals.

Another useful resource is the online Windows 7 Compatibility Centre, where you can check both hardware and software for compatibility simply by searching on a name. You can also get hold of the latest drivers here, locate suitable updates and find other downloads to help with your deployment.

Finally, for now, there's the Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) 5.6. This is a bundle of tools that can be used to assess commercial and in-house applications for their compatibility.

What you do with incompatible apps is, however, a different subject — and one we'll cover in our next and final migration article.