HANDS ON: Rolling out Windows 7

Ian Yates has just installed Windows 7 on a 20-PC LAN. In this story he shares his very positive experience.

Windows Vista got such bad press (mostly justified) that small businesses stayed away in droves. Add in the effects of the Global Financial Crisis and many SMBs didn’t just avoid Vista – they delayed upgrading their ageing PC fleets. But with the financial freeze melting and the release of Windows 7, things are starting to move again in the desktop PC small office market.

We recently completed a rollout of 20 new desktops for a client, and the whole process went unbelievably smoothly – compared with previous Windows rollouts we’ve had to endure. For starters, the toolkit of add-on software bits and bobs required to install Windows 7 onto 20 new PCs, then extract the data from the users’ old PCs and migrate them to the new models and integrate them into the domain has shrunk considerably.

In fact, it’s shrunk to zero. You don’t need anything other than what’s on the Windows 7 install DVD supplied by Microsoft. This didn’t elicit gasps of awe and wonder from the install time – instead all we heard were howls of “about frikkin’ time!” But the good news is that the tools are there at last, and you don’t need to hunt down anything extra from the Internet. All you need is a spare USB hard drive, and surely every tech has a few of those in their backpacks?

The procedure we followed was to install a fresh Win7 onto one PC, and then load that PC up with the other software used in the client’s environment. That included Microsoft Office, Cute PDF Writer and their accounting software front-end. Once loaded, but not activated or registered, (we decided to do the activation after the user’s data transfer) we chose “Maintenance” from the program menu and burned a system image to the USB hard drive. Then we simply booted each new PC with the Win7 install DVD and selected “recover my system” and pointed to the USB hard drive image.

Each PC took about 20 minutes to re-image, and then all that was required was to cart the thing to the user’s desk and connect it to the network. Since we were upgrading the users from their existing WinXP machines, we left both the old and new PCs on the network and used the Win7 “Easy File Transfer” utility, which allows for moving the data between two PCs on the same network – no need to dump to disk or USB stick first.

If your old PC doesn’t know about the new Easy Transfer software, your new Win7 PC will put the code onto a USB stick, which you then insert into the old PC and voila! It loads up, you choose the network option and it presents you with a code, which you enter into the box on your new PC and the transfer process begins automagically. One gotcha to watch out for here is to make sure there are no anti-virus programs on the old PC blocking the transfer.

Also, if you need to switch usernames, you can do it by selecting “advanced” on the file transfer menu. This option is handy for when you discover that “Sally” has been logging in as “Mary” for six months because nobody remembered to create an account for here when she replaced “Mary”. When a new PC is going in, the boss is going to want all this trivia sorted out at the same time. Choosing the advanced option let’s you move the data under one username on the old PC to a different username on the new PC. Nice touch and much easier than the old hacker’s way of moving the data around the hard drive.

Of course, Easy File Transfer doesn’t move any installed programs off the old PC; it just moves the user’s data and settings. However, it does produce a report telling you which programs were on the old PC, so you can note which ones need to be installed on the new desktop. This report also creates a few surprises for management along the lines of “why was Albert using that software?” Either way, it’s easy to see what you need to install and what should be forgotten about.

If the old PC happens to be running Vista, which means it’s probably got decent hardware and won’t be replaced, then you can do an in-place upgrade to Win7, which does preserve all the installed programs. A word of warning here though – the process takes about three hours for an average PC. So, unless there are lots of programs you don’t want to reinstall, or you can leave the sucker running over night, you might still want to consider a fresh install of Win7 instead.

After plonking all the PCs on the desks and transferring the data, it was time for a name change and a move into the domain, which was under the control of Windows Server 2008. Anyone who’s done this before knows it can be a bit hit and miss – some PCs just do as they’re told and move into the domain. Others just throw a hissy fit and refuse to communicate with the Active Directory. On this occasion, and we hope it applies for all Windows 7 installs, every PC just joined up and played nice with the rest of the domain. Still no cause for applause – after all, this is how it should always have worked.

Next up, printer installation. Groan. Always fun on the Windows platform. This is when you start to wonder if you could convince the client to switch to Macintosh. But, wait, what’s this? Win7 understand printers? Another gasp of “about frikkin’ time” but yes indeed, Win7 can not only find network printers, it can ask them to identify themselves and load up the right drivers. Slight gotcha here is that the drivers on the install DVD are slightly less than fresh – however, Win7 does give you the option to collect the latest online while doing the printer install.

The real proof of the success of any rollout is the level of squeals and noise coming from the users the next morning. You need to be up early, get the coffee into your system and wait for the phones to ring off the hook. This time everything was quiet. In fact, it was so quiet that we had to check if the office was actually open or if they’d all stayed home in protest. But everyone was at his or her desk; just doing whatever he or she usually does, but a bit faster and a bit smoother than before.

Of course, sitting in front of new Core 2 Duo PCs running 64-bit Windows 7 was always going to be faster, but after the experience of Vista, we weren’t sure if “smoother” would be the appropriate adjective. However, smoother was definitely the consensus. We happily waved goodbye to Windows XP and its never-quite-happy-to-be-networked crankiness forever. Although Windows 7 is the Windows Vista we should have had in the first place, now that it’s arrived we’re happy to report that it’s the best version by far that we’ve had to roll out for a small business network. And we were only on site for three days. Gotta be happy about that.


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