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Microsoft Panel Offers Windows XP Migration Tips

Microsoft assembled a panel of MVPs, product managers and consultants on Monday to prod those still stuck on Windows XP to move to Windows 7.

The Microsoft Springboard roundtable Webcast, now available on demand, was moderated by Stephen L. Rose, a Microsoft IT professional community manager. The panel discussed the topic, "Is Windows XP Good Enough?" No one said, "Yes"; rather, the consensus was that it was just better for IT pros to modernize their systems and take advantage of the resulting efficiencies. Also, it was noted that drivers for Windows XP are getting harder to find as independent software vendors move off supporting XP-based solutions.

Rose kicked off the talk with a list of technologies that were still around when Windows XP was first introduced about 10 years ago. Those items included an Oldsmobile, a Walkman cassette player, a Nokia phone with no screen and the use of hardware devices for sector-based imaging. Most of the talk centered on rebuffing claims about application compatibility, tough learning curves and budget considerations when moving to Windows 7.

The general consensus was that if a PC was less than three years old, the hardware should be adequate to upgrade to Windows 7.

Rose noted at one point during the talk that 64 percent of companies are still using Windows XP. He added that there are a little more than 1,000 days before Microsoft's "extended support" for Windows XP ends, which is also the time that free security updates from Microsoft will stop arriving automatically. Extended support for Windows XP cuts off in April 2014.

Windows 7 support for mobility was one of the highlights mentioned during the talk. The operating system is capable of automatically finding a Wi-Fi hotspot compared with XP, noted Steven Erikson, a global desktop standards and design engineer at IPG. Rose added that users who skipped Windows Vista likely aren't aware of the improvements in search that Microsoft added to its operating system after XP, which boosts user productivity. There was also talk of increased security in Windows 7 with the user account control, as well as features such as BitLocker and AppLocker.

On the application compatibility front, Gary DiPalma, senior consultant at Microsoft Services, said that IT pros can perform an inventory of applications and decide which ones they will want to bring over to Windows 7. Another solution is shimming to get apps to work on Windows 7. If that doesn't work, the next step might be to use Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V). However, DiPalma described virtualization as "a short-term fix."

Charlie Russel, a Microsoft MVP for PowerShell, suggested that using Windows XP Mode for desktop virtualization would be an adequate solution if just a few users need to continue to use a specific XP-based application.

When it came to a discussion about deploying images, the panel generally advocated using the free Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT). It can be used with thumb-drive devices to speed up deployments across an organization. The tool can create an image in less than two minutes to push out an upgrade, according to the panel. Rose noted a statistic sourced to Gartner, which found that the average IT pro spends six hours to migrate a customer to Windows 7. He suggested spending that amount of time was unnecessary when using MDT.

IT pros also have to worry about the compatibility of their Internet Explorer 6-based Web applications when moving to Windows 7, which ships with IE 8. DiPalma claimed that about "75 percent" of IE 6-based Web apps will upgrade successfully to IE 8 without any problems. There's a change in how IE 8 handles trusted sites, but that's about it. DiPalma also said he was "confident" about Web apps based on IE 8 being compatible with the IE 10 browser when it's released. Microsoft announced the first platform preview of IE 10 last week, but the new browser won't run on Vista.

Rose noted that IT pros have access to 1,400 security policies that they can use with IE. DiPalma commented that there's no reason to go through all of them. Rather, IT pros can select the policies they want for specific purposes. Rose said some confusion remains on that point and that Microsoft has plans to release a white paper that will clear up the best practices to use.

Rose pointed IT pros to the Microsoft Springboard series Web sites to get more information about dealing with Microsoft product migration details. Those having Enterprise Agreements in place with Microsoft can get help setting up a testing lab, and Microsoft also provides a number of additional training resources to EA subscribers. IT pros can get direct help on setup questions by reaching out to their Microsoft partner, he added.

Microsoft has an enterprise learning framework (ELF) that serves as a communications center for Windows 7 help topics. IT pros can use ELF to build e-mail templates and populate them with help links for users who are new to working with Windows 7. Microsoft describes ELF at this TechNet page.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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