Analyst Gartner has identified three tools that IT departments can use to help with the migration from XP to Windows 7: Microsoft's Application Compatibility Toolkit (Act), which is free; App-DNA, which is now owned by Citrix; and ChangeBase, which has been acquired by Quest Software.
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Greg Lambert, chief technology officer of ChangeBase, left University in Canada to travel in Europe, but fate led him on a trip to London and drinks in a bar with Credit Suisse. The following day, and 12 hours of interviews later, Lambert had an IT job on the Credit Suisse trading desk.
During his time at the investment bank, Lambert developed some software to automate building Windows 3.0 to support the bank's 8,000 applications. After Credit Suisse, he worked as a contractor and noticed other banks had similar application compatibility issues. In 2000, he joined Camwood as a director, helping the company build an application compatibility tool. Lambert left to launch his own company, ChangeBase, in 2007 to develop a rival product, Aok, while Camwood split the tool from the services side of its business, forming App-DNA.
At the end of October, both ChangeBase and App-DNA were acquired.
In Gartner's Application Compatibility Assessment Tools for Windows 7 Migrations report, analysts Michael Silver and Stephens Kleynhans note that AppTitude and Aok examine installation files and application code, looking for the applications' requirements for Ring 0 usage (ie the highest level of system access) and problems with permissions or user account controls, that Microsoft introduced in Windows 7 to curb unauthorised applications.
According to Silver and Kleynhans, once an application or its metadata is imported into the product's database, it can be assessed against other or future platforms without having to find or reload the application or its metadata. Application assessment can be done in batches, unattended by a technician. Applications are rated based on their likelihood of running on Windows 7 (or whatever platform is being tested).
Gartner urges IT departments to look at the return on investment of these tools. "The biggest impediment organisations have had in deciding to pay for a tool is the seemingly high price. Application compatibility assessment tools generally sell for $100 to $200 per application, and most large organisations have hundreds or thousands of applications (the rule of thumb is one application for every 10 users)," according to Silver and Kleynhans.
Act, on the other hand, is free and includes agents run on the client PCs to detect runtime application problems with Windows 7 user account control, GINA and several other common OS issues, according to Gartner. However, Silver and Kleynhans warn that most of the application testing needs to be done by technicians and users manually, and results must be entered into the console.
According to Gartner, once testing is completed and results are recorded, Microsoft Compatibility Administrator must be used to enable technicians to select shims to apply to the application to improve its compatibility with Windows 7. "This process is manual and time-consuming, and requires technical expertise to understand why the application is failing and select the proper shims to fix it," Silver and Kleynhans state in the report.
Case study: Train operator uses Aok to migrate to Windows 7
The IT team at Holland train operator RET has been using ChangeBase's Aok to support its Windows 7 migration, as part of an office move. RET's IT team supports more than 1,300 PCs and laptops with in excess of 200 applications.
Martin Spijkers, technical system development co-ordinator, said the company currently uses Windows XP, but while it is not experiencing any problems with the OS, a hardware refresh and OS migration was necessary to get the most out of the move.
Twelve people worked on the Windows 7 migration, three of whom were dedicated to the repackaging and migration of the 200+ applications. "We had five months in which to complete the project. The driving reason to migrate was the outdated hardware; it is easier to place new hardware with the latest software OS in a new building than move with old ones," he said.
Rather than run a proof of concept with Aok, RET ran diligence tests based on a selected number of applications to see how Aok would behave. "We chose a small number of applications which we knew would give us problems, specifically the applications that are unique to our business. This helped us understand how Aok would run the test, report and fix the application. The due diligence activity gave us the opportunity to do some training on using ChangeBase," said Spijkers.
All of the company's 200 applications need to be migrated to Windows 7. By using Aok, he said the team knows which ones are best suited to become virtualised.
By using Aok, making applications Windows 7-compliant will now take a lot less time, said Spijkers. "We can focus on the real compatibility problems that Aok tells us there are and more importantly, where they are. This is particularly important given RET only has two people working to make more than 200 applications Windows 7 compatible."
"Aok will reduce our packaging time by a third on average. Historically, most of our time was spent on resolving conflicts and searching for compatibility issues. With the Fix-It button [in Aok], minor issues are solved for you - we don't waste time any more," he said.