by Shane O'Neill

Windows 7: Why I’m Rolling It Out Early

May 18, 20094 mins
Data CenterOperating SystemsSmall and Medium Business

While many IT organizations say they're in no rush to roll out Windows 7, the City of Miami, already a Vista shop, won't wait. Here's a look at the IT plan and reasoning.

Despite the positive reception of Windows 7 thus far, many businesses still don’t plan to deploy Windows 7 anytime soon due to budgetary constraints and compatibility fears. Many IT pros say that they plan to ride out Windows XP as the economy slowly improves.

But early adopters of Windows 7 are out there, eagerly planning to utilize the user interface enhancements and the “under the hood” networking features such as DirectAccess and BranchCache.

One organization that will quickly roll out Windows 7 for some of its workstations is the City of Miami’s IT group, which runs 2,900 computers and serves all the city’s municipal agencies. This IT shop has been testing Windows 7 in its environments since the beta was released in January and says that it has been impressed with the application and driver compatibility, speed and Aero UI features. Here’s a look at the reasoning behind the early Windows 7 rollout.

Hoping for a Smooth Transition from Vista

The City of Miami is not taking the more common upgrade path of moving all its machines from XP to Windows 7. The agency deployed Vista in October, 2008 in monthly increments and now has it running on 560 desktops/laptops, says Jim Osteen, City of Miami’s Assistant Director of IT.

The embattled Vista still suffers from negative perceptions and low adoption at enterprises — 10 percent, according to Forrester. But the City of Miami’s Osteen says that he migrated many of his machines to Vista because of the compatibility improvements he had seen since the release of Vista Service Pack 1 and the advanced search and security features that he believes dwarf Windows XP.

Osteen says that he didn’t set out to have Vista serve as a transition to Windows 7, but he was impressed enough with the speed, network connectivity and UI features of Windows 7 that he and his staff started planning a migration. Because Windows 7 application compatibility and hardware requirements are so similar to Vista, Osteen says he expects the transition to Windows 7 from both Vista and XP machines to be smooth.

“We created successful training sessions for our clients that moved from XP to Vista,” he says. “We’ll make minor modifications to that training for the transition from XP to Windows 7.”

Osteen’s goal is to roll out Windows 7 when it releases to manufacturing (scheduled for late August) on 30 machines for his IT support staff so they can gain support expertise. The agency then plans to purchase 100 new machines running Windows 7 within 30 to 60 days after Windows 7’s release.

Windows 7 UI = Instant Productivity Boost?

The City of Miami plans to take immediate advantage of the enterprise and UI features in Windows 7, Osteen says.

He is depending on new UI features such as Aero Peek, interactive thumbnails, advanced search and Problem Steps Recorder (“the best kept secret in Windows 7”) to improve worker productivity.

“Windows 7 is snappier. The UI enhancements such as jump lists and the ability to pin items to the taskbar will increase the productivity of clients trying to access frequent functions and documents,” says Osteen.

As for improved networking, Osteen will lean on DirectAccess and BranchCache (both of which need Windows Server 2008 R2 to work) for the agency’s many users spread throughout the city.

Additionally, Windows 7 encryption feature BitLocker To Go, he says, will “increase security on mobile computers without increasing our licensing costs, a big advantage in the current economy,” he says.

Osteen says he is not relying on Windows XP Mode — a new feature from the Windows 7 release candidate that allows users to run XP-only applications on a virtual machine — but he calls it a “good fallback.”

What About Learning Curve, Upgrade Costs?

Two major concerns with any OS upgrade are the learning curve for users and upgrade costs. Osteen says the City of Miami is in an enviable position because of its Vista deployment.

“We are not concerned with the learning curve for Windows 7 due to our early adoption of Vista in our environment.”

Osteen says the previous training for Vista will help XP users move to Windows 7. “When we transition Vista and XP desktops to Windows 7, we feel this move will be more evolutionary and require little interaction with those users.” He adds that the City of Miami will do tests with a pilot program to confirm that the transition goes smoothly.

Among the actions Osteen will take to minimize upgrade costs, he’ll use MDT 2010 (Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010) to help automate parts of the upgrade and schedule the Windows 7 upgrade to coincide with the purchase of new computers.

“We expect that the upgrade costs will be more than offset by increased client productivity and decreased desktop support costs,” says Osteen.

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