Windows 7 Rollout Lessons Learned by Early Adopters

Now's the time to learn from early adopters as you plan your Windows 7 rollout. As you deal with issues from timing to training, consider these five best practices Forrester has culled from work with Windows 7 earlybirds.

Windows 7 may have helped propel Microsoft's second quarter revenues to record levels, but many enterprises are still slowly, carefully deploying the OS, if at all.

For those enterprises mulling over a Windows 7 migration, now is the time to learn from the experiences of early adopters.

With that in mind, Forrester consulted over the past six months with 40 Windows 7 early adopters, most from large enterprises. The research firm then compiled a list of best practices for companies developing a Windows 7 migration strategy.

[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's new Windows 7 operating system -- including hands-on reviews, video tutorials and advice on enterprise rollouts -- see CIO.com's Windows 7 Bible. ]

Feedback from IT managers shows high levels of satisfaction with Windows 7, writes report author and Forrester senior analyst Benjamin Gray.

"Through our customer interviews," writes Gray, "we've consistently heard about faster startup and shutdown times, the more reliable sleep mode and overall stability of the OS, faster access to data and applications through improved search, and a superior mobile and branch office connectivity experience."

Another benefit of Windows 7 cited by IT managers: it can reduce the need for third-party software through enterprise features like DirectAccess, which connects users to corporate networks without the use of a VPN (virtual private network).

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However, Windows 7 user feedback hasn't been all roses. Users have been griping that Windows 7 prematurely warns that laptop battery life is low. As complaints grew louder, Microsoft investigated the issue, concluding that the battery-metering feature of Windows 7 works fine, and that some users were not aware their batteries were degrading. Users are currently disputing this explanation.

Forrester's consulting work was done before trouble with Windows 7 and battery life surfaced in the past two weeks.

As far Windows 7 enterprise upgrades, Gray writes that Windows 7 will follow the typical mainstream adoption time cycle of 12 to 18 months after general availability. But it's never too soon to start planning. Here are Forrester's five best practices for migrating to Windows 7.

Don't Take App Compatibility Lightly

Microsoft did more preparation for the hardware and software ecosystem of Windows 7 than it did for Vista. But IT pros still need to do extensive application inventory and compatibility testing, especially when moving from Windows XP.

Companies that are on Windows XP or earlier should expect approximately two-thirds of their applications not to be natively supported on Windows 7, according to Forrester. But companies that have deployed Vista or have done extensive application compatibility testing against it should expect that two-thirds to reduce to 3 to 5 percent, writes Gray.

Most incompatibility issues can be resolved by upgrading apps to newer versions, recoding them for native Windows 7 compatibility or virtualizing the applications locally through application virtualization.

Time Win7 Upgrades with PC Refreshes

One-fifth of the companies Forrester spoke with are upgrading to Windows 7 on existing hardware. But a more optimal approach, writes Gray, is to treat the OS upgrade and PC refreshes as one by purchasing new computers with Windows 7 preinstalled.

Forrester recommends this for those companies that have the resources available because it's the best way to avoid the complexities of hardware compatibility testing and manual upgrades.

Invest in Client Management Software

IT pros need client management tools to automate hardware and Windows 7 upgrades, but these tools have become even more necessary with the influx of Macs and netbooks in the enterprise, writes Gray. Having client managment tools in-house will ease Windows 7 upgrades, free up IT for other projects and help retain employees who want more computing flexibility, he adds. The client management space has myriad vendors from which to choose.

Consider Client Virtualization for Windows 7 Deployments

Application and desktop virtualization offers an effective path to migration for companies struggling with the complexities and costs of upgrading an OS and testing for app compatibility.

Application virtualization helps to: speed up application deployment; package applications in a matter of days not months; reduce help desk support calls; improve remote access; seamlessly transition users from one OS to another by virtualizing desktops.

Roughly one-third of the IT managers Forrrester spoke with used some flavor of client virtualization to accelerate their Windows 7 deployment. Microsoft includes various virtualization technologies in MDOP (Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack), the company's desktop management software suite for SA (software assurance) customers. Microsoft released MDOP 2009 R2 in late October with updates for Windows 7

Don't Overdo the Training

The Windows 7 user interface and navigation features are not so different from Vista and Windows XP that a lot of training is required. Forrester predicts that even those who are not using Windows 7 at home will only need an hour or two to become accustomed to the OS.

Yet, IT still must educate users on what has and hasn't changed in Windows 7, especially users who resist change. Based on Forrester's feedback from early adopters, IT is tailoring training to specific user groups, and speeding up training through the use of blogs, wikis and podcasts.

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.

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