Tools aim to ease Vista deployment pains

Microsoft unwraps tools for setting laptop encryption policies and running a virtual version of Windows Vista

Microsoft Corp. released tools to help companies deploy Windows Vista, acknowledging that there are deployment and application-compatibility pains enterprise IT managers face when updating business desktops to the new OS.

The company unveiled the new tools, Data Encryption Toolkit for Mobile PCs and Virtual Hard Drive (VHD) Test Drive, at the TechEd 2007 conference in Orlando Tuesday. The first helps IT administrators set encryption policies for laptops in an enterprise using the encrypting file system and new Bitlocker features of Windows Vista, said Stella Chernyak, a Vista product manager at Microsoft. The second is a file that can be downloaded from the Internet that allows enterprises to run a virtual version of Vista on PCs for a 30-day evaluation period to see how it will interact with other applications in their systems.

The VHD Test Drive is available online, and more information on the Data Encryption Toolkit can be found on Microsoft's Web site.

Business adoption of Vista has been a big concern since the OS was released to business customers last November. Many companies said they would hold off on fully deploying the OS longer than they usually do mainly because of concerns about application compatibility.

Indeed, Chernyak acknowledged Tuesday in an interview that lack of application compatibility is the biggest challenge enterprise customers face when they deploy Vista. She said this is why Microsoft released the Vista Application Compatibility Toolkit simultaneously with the general availability of the OS instead of some time after, which it has traditionally done. The VHD also gives enterprises a chance to see what applications will be affected by the new OS so they can make compatibility adjustments before investing in Vista.

Three of Microsoft's large enterprise customers, Continental Airlines, Charter Communications and health-care company Cerna Corp. also will have major Vista deployments in their enterprise by the end of the year, Chernyak said. Microsoft claims most enterprises are on schedule to a full rollout of Vista 12 to 18 months after its release, which is about normal for a new Windows OS, she said.

Still, not everyone is rushing to deploy Vista, and smaller companies in particular are wary of adopting the OS until making certain it will work with everything in their systems.

TechEd attendee Ryan Engh, infrastructure manager at 130-person mutual funds company Wasatch Advisors in Salt Lake City, said his company is still about 12 months from beginning a Vista deployment, though two IT staff members are "playing with it" to see how it will interact with applications in the system.

"We'd be more aggressive if it wasn't such a drastic change in the operating system," he said.

Engh said he was not aware of the new deployment tools from Microsoft, but likely would not use them anyway because he is currently more concerned with application compatibility than actually deploying the OS.

"I'm not so worried about the deployment, it's just if the application will actually work on the system," he said. "We're not even worried about [deploying Vista] yet."

Microsoft also said at TechEd that it would make its previously announced Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) available by July for Windows Vista with a new feature for monitoring desktop errors so IT managers can identify errors and send a fix across all enterprise desktops at once.

MDOP, unveiled in January, consists of software from Microsoft's purchases of Softricity, AssetMetrix, Winternals Software, and DesktopStandard. It rolls up virtualization software from Softricity, asset-management software from AssetMetrix, group policy-management software from DesktopSoftware, and diagnostic and recovery tools from Winternals into a product designed to help companies manage desktops in an enterprise.

The Softricity and Winternals components of the pack are already available for Windows XP, said Winni Verhoef, a senior product manager for Microsoft. All of the components of MDOP will be available for Vista in July except the Winternals diagnostic and recovery tools, which won't be available until next year. It is taking Microsoft a bit more time to port those tools to Vista because they had to be rewritten for the new architecture of the client OS, he said.

MDOP costs about US$10 per desktop and is available only to Microsoft customers who have purchased its Software Assurance service.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.