Buyer's Guide: Top tips for CIOs migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7 OS

Microsoft ends support for Windows XP in 2014. Businesses need to plan to migrate to Windows 7 in 2012, to leave time to test and roll-out desktops. Cliff Saran discusses the steps the IT department can take to simplify the Windows 7 upgrade from Windows XP.

Microsoft ends support for Windows XP in 2014. Realistically, businesses will need to start migration plans in 2012, to leave enough time to test and roll-out desktops. Cliff Saran discusses the steps an IT department can take to simplify the Windows 7 upgrade.


Prepare for XP migration with hardware and software audit

Organisations should try to eliminate Windows XP by the end of 2012, says Gartner. According to Gartner's "Microsoft Windows 7 and Office Key Initiative Overview" by Stephen Kleynhans and Michael Silver, as the end of support for Windows XP looms ever closer, enterprises must ensure they are positioned to complete a migration to Windows 7 in a timely and cost-effective manner to avoid disruptions.

Kleynhans and Silver note that CIOs and IT leaders will be confronted by a host of challenges, as well as some degree of risk, as they work through the preparation and deployment processes. "Issues such as software compatibility, licensing agreements and SLAs move to the fore."

Should you upgrade to Windows 7 or 8?

Windows XP shops don’t have to migrate to Windows 7 anymore, but there are several pros and cons to weigh before deciding on a Windows 8 upgrade.

The place to start is with a hardware and software audit. This allows IT departments to discover what hardware will run Windows 7 and catalogue the desktop applications run in the organisation. Depending on how much flexibility IT gives business users to deploy their own desktop software, IT can find it has thousands of applications. A product like Centrix WorkSpace iQ can then be used to see how these applications are being used, by measuring network activity.

With potentially thousands of applications to check, organisations must starting migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7."You have to get cracking during 2012 to meet the 2014 deadline," warns Paul Schnell, CTO at AppDNA, a company which specialises in application compatibility.


Use automated tools to test application compatibility with Windows 7

Schnell says Windows 7 is no ordinary desktop upgrade. In fact, treating it just like a Windows upgrade would be missing the point of Windows 7, according to Schnell. Windows 7 offers the chance for IT to rethink how it does desktop IT. Businesses have to think about their IE6 websites and applications, whether or not to take advantage of 64-bit computing available on Windows 7, a virtual desktop infrastructure.

Windows XP application compatibility could be a major issue - some XP applications will fail on Windows 7 - but tools such as AppDNA and Aok from Changebase allow organisations to check if applications will install on Windows 7. These are automated tools so developers don't have to test applications themselves.

According to AppDNA, it takes anywhere from 8 to 40 hours to manually test an application for compatibility with a new platform, depending on its complexity.

Such tools can reduce the manual migration process significantly. It is the 80/20 rule. Most applications should pass through with no compatibility issues, leaving fewer that need manual checking.

Post remediation, to fix the compatibility issue, in Schnell's experience around 98% of applications should then be able to run on a Windows 7 desktop. That leaves 2%, which will need re-engineering.

The move to 64-bit computing will cause 16-bit to become inoperable. This is likely to affect legacy device drivers and older peripheral hardware. On modern PCs, users should update 32-bit device drivers to the latest 64-bit versions.


Beware the Internet Explorer 6.0 headache for Windows 7 upgrade

Internet Explorer 6.0 is likely to cause major headaches, because there is no support for it in Windows 7. IE 6.0 compatibility was killed off in the Microsoft Trustworthy Computing initiative to make Microsoft code more secure. As a result, IE6 is not supported in later versions of the browser. Websites and web applications written for IE6 will not work under IE8 or 9. The IE6-dependency issue is a significant problem for many organisations looking to migrate from XP and is a blocker to many Windows 7 migrations.

Microsoft says it's one of the biggest challenges for Windows 7 projects. The UK public sector and many large businesses rely a lot on IE6 applications. When most were installed, browser compatibility was not as serious an issue as it is now. Some websites and applications are tied to IE6. Browsium is a software company tackling this aspect of Windows XP migrations by providing a browser plug-in for IE8 that provides an environment for running IE6 websites and plug-ins.


How Windows 7 upgrade affects desktop virtualisation

Desktop virtualisation is no way to lower desktop computing costs. It puts immense strain on the network and storage, but it does offer a strong model for centralised security that fits in well with the consumerisation of IT. VDI is a major undertaking, technically challenging and it requires a cultural shift in how people view personal computing.

The Co-operative Group plans to virtualise up to 2,000 desktops by the end of 2011, reaching 3,500 desktops across its head office and funeral services branches during 2012.

Moving to Windows 7 also gives the IT department the ability to use App-V, the Microsoft virtualisation technology. But not all applications are suitable for virtualisation. Application compatibility tools have a role to play here, again, by helping users to identify potential compatibility issues.


How Windows 8 release affects Windows XP upgrade

Organisations may consider delaying the migration because Windows 8 is just around the corner.

In Gartner's paper, Don't Change Your Windows 7 Plans Because of Windows 8, analysts say Microsoft expects Windows 8 to be released to manufacture in April 2012, a date that would allow general availability by mid-year. In the paper Gartner warns that independent software vendors (ISVs) and enterprises will likely need nine to 18 months to obtain and test supported applications and plan deployments.

According to Gartner, most organisations will not be able to start deploying Windows 8 before the end of 2013. "With support for Windows XP ending in April 2014, we believe it would be dangerous for organisations now running XP to attempt to skip Windows 7 and move directly to Windows 8."


Case study: Council uses Centrix WorkSpace iQ to prepare for Windows 7

Cheshire East Borough Council is using Centrix WorkSpace iQ, a user computing analytics tool, to review its current IT estate as it prepares to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7.

The borough was formed in 2009, following the restructuring of local government in the UK.

The council, which shares an ICT service with Cheshire West & Chester Council, has just completed phase one of its discovery and review process across its desktop estate, which supports over 4,000 users.

Centrix provides unified user computing analytics designed to give organisations an insight into application usage, tracked at a session level.

With WorkSpace iQ, the local authority has analysed its installed application and hardware assets and gathered detailed intelligence on how its users consume and use the council's IT resources. The user and asset insight it has across its computing environment is being used to support decision-making around application licensing, OS migrations and the use of virtualisation across its estate.

Alan Myatt, ICT programme manager at Cheshire East Borough Council, said: "We want to get to the point where we understand our users. Our top priority is service continuity. There is lots of IT to provision."

The council is at early stage of its desktop transformation project from Windows XP SP3. He expects that over the next two to three years, Cheshire will migrate onto a thin-client architecture based on Windows 7.

"Out of 500 PCs, about 10% will need hardware upgrades. We also have to find a solution to support applications that won't run on Windows 7," says Myatt.

Cheshire East Borough Council runs in excess of 500 niche applications, some with only half a dozen users. Using Centrix WorkSpace iQ, Myatt says he can monitor any application that has not been accessed. "We will shelve any application that has not been used by the network."

Centrix is also helping the council manage its software assets, which has recently allowed it to renegotiate an improved enterprise agreement with Microsoft.

By looking at application usage Myatt says: "With the MS EA agreement, we shaped and optimised it." For instance, he says: "We would like to reduce the number of applications by a third and some of the more expensive products can be managed."


Five pointers for your Windows XP upgrade at a glance

  1. Software and hardware auditing should be used to determine the state of the desktop in terms of software and hardware configuration. Windows 7 has a minimum specification, in terms of hardware requirements. Generally, businesses are installing 4 to 8GBytes of memory on 64-bit ready PC hardware to make the most of what the OS offers.
  2. Reducing the number of applications, by simplifying the desktop PC environment, should be a priority. Ultimately, IT departments should consider migrating towards a fully -fledged virtual desktop environment, but this may be too big a first step from Windows XP. Tools that monitor application usage can identify candidate applications to remove from the desktop.
  3. Don't forget Internet Explorer 6.0. Some internal websites and web applications may have been hard-coded to run only in IE6. Such applications can be redeveloped, but it may be more cost-effective to user a browser emulation plug-in, that enables the IE6 environment to run within a modern Microsoft browser.
  4. Automated application compatibility testing enables IT departments to test which desktop applications are good to go and which are incompatible with Windows 7. This can save significant time and money by knowing the answers up front, according to AppDNA
  5. Some application testing tools can fix many common application compatibility problems automatically, leaving just a few applications that need to be manually re-engineered.

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