The road to Windows 7

Here in the sunny heartland of the UK we had a solid Windows 7 release within days of RTM. How did we get a build out to a cross section of users so rapidly? The story starts several years ago with a pattern of build, test and release for Windows XP. The build was well understood, the requirements defined. Each iteration allowed for improvements in our deployment technologies introducing new and innovative processes. As Microsoft evolved its toolsets such as the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK), WinPE, Pkgmgr etc so we were able to incorporate these underlying technologies. As XP gave way to Vista much of what we learned transposed onto Vista as we were already making use of Windows Imaging Format (WIM) technologies and associated tools.

It’s now widely acknowledged Windows Vista wasn’t as well received as Microsoft would have hoped. It’s fair to say its adoption by Enterprises was somewhat disappointing. However, what Vista did provide for those of us who did work with it was a solid grounding for Windows 7. Much of what Windows 7 is, is an evolution of Vista. All of the ground work we put into building a stable Vista platform, evolving the build and deployment processes, remediating applications etc. made the eventual switch to Windows 7 so much easier. To be fair, this was the message that Microsoft had been putting out for the previous two years and with good reason.

As a close partner of Microsoft and being part of the Technology Adopter Program for Windows 7 we have had access to build releases since January 2008. From the very first Milestone build it was clear that Microsoft were pulling out all the stops to produce a product that would wow! The difference from the early Vista builds was huge. One of Vistas initial blockers to business was a lack of driver support. Our client uses a mixture of hardware from the likes of HP, Lenovo and Panasonic and we have been pleasantly surprised at how well Windows 7 has either provided driver support out of the box or able to use existing Vista drivers to enable us to move forward with testing. Microsoft is shipping some great tools to enable users to create standardised builds, including the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit and the System Image Manager. Our build creation has relied heavily on these tools through XP to Vista to 7 and as these tools have evolved and improved, so our ability to rapidly create build images, to inject changes etc. in a much more agile fashion has evolved.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be blogging about some of our experiences of getting ready for Windows 7, some of our approaches and the ways in which we’ve utilized the tools Microsoft have provided. I’ll also discuss some of the pitfalls and headaches and ways in which we can go forward with some of the lessons learned. For now I’ll leave you with one of my personal favourite new tools in Windows 7. It’s been blogged before and you may have already used it, but for those who haven’t and for those in support who have ever spent hours on the phone to a user trying to find out exactly ‘what caused the problem’, let me introduce The Problem Steps Recorder. 

By default you won’t find this on the Start Menu. To access it run psr.exe from the Start Menu search box.


Ask your user to fire up the problem steps recorder and press the Start Record button. Get them to repeat any steps you want to see.  The PSR will capture a screenshot of each step along with a narrative of each step taken.  How good would that have been under NT4!

Next time.  The evolution of MDT 2008 to 2010.

Trevor Scott

Technical Consultant