Latecomer's guide to deploying Windows 7

As businesses finally get serious about migrating from Windows XP, an expert shares what works in the real world

Even though Windows 8 is just a few months away from formal release, most businesses -- about 70 percent, in fact -- are still running Windows XP. And while Windows 7 has been available for nearly two years, fewer than half of businesses have switched to it. Most plan to deploy Windows 7 this year or next, now that it has had a service pack and user familiarity has grown through home installations. Plus, the April 2014 end of formal Microsoft support for XP has become a convenient deadline for many IT shops to make the switch to Windows 7.

Despite all that prep time, I'm amazed by how lackadaisical many companies are about deploying Windows 7 even after they make the decision -- I've never seen that in my 30-plus years in IT. For example, one client gave IT three weeks to put together a corporate deployment plan and one week to deploy 200 Windows 7 PCs -- including users' XP data and settings. IT had 8,000 more desktops to migrate in three weeks after that initial run. Another client gave its IT organization five days to come up with the deployment plan -- for 20,000 PCs!

[ Get all the details you need on deploying and using Windows 7 in the InfoWorld editors' 21-page Windows 7 Deep Dive PDF special report. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

The cold, hard truth is that there is a lot you have to do to deploy Windows 7 in a business environment. You need to determine which existing PCs can run Windows 7 at an acceptable level of performance and which need to be replaced. You need to have application experts test your key software as it is used day in, day out. You need to consider whether you want to deploy Windows 7 locally as a fat client, over the network as a thin client, or mix the two approaches -- and figure out whether your network can handle remote deployment and access.

Then there's the decision you probably didn't think you had to make: which deployment tool to use. Microsoft offers several.

Based on my experience with dozens of clients, here are the key steps to take to ensure a successful migration to Windows 7. And before I get into all the hows and whys, one tip for those readers wit enterprise licenses: Deploy the Windows 7 Enterprise Edition! I'm amazed at how many enterprise clients don't know they have access to the Enterprise Edition -- you need only to ask for it.

Step 1: Assess your hardware's ability to run Windows 7

Start with the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit 7.0 to assess your current equipment and create an inventory that covers the hardware (including drivers), software, and operating system information -- there are no client agents to install!

In MAP, the first action is to inventory your environment by clicking the Go button next to the Perform an Inventory step. In the wizard that runs, select the Windows Computers inventory scenario, then click Next and choose the method you'd like to use to discover your clients, such as from Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) or an IP address range; you can also manually enter computer names or import them from a file.

The Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit
The Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit
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