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July 16, 2010
Vol.32 Issue 15|
Page(s) 26 in print issue
Sidestep Windows 7 Problems
XP Mode Will Help, But Testing Compatibility & Providing Ample Resources Are Key
Go ahead and say it: It’s time to upgrade to Windows 7. Your enterprise has been running Windows XP or Vista for years, and it’s time for a change. Don’t be afraid; it’s not as bad as it used to be, when the User Account Control ran amok and drivers were not only missing but also unavailable. Win7 will have its share of challenges, just like any new OS, but if your company is in a Windows state of mind, here are some common problems that can be avoided altogether with the right steps.
• Enterprises that are upgrading from Windows XP will have a lot of adjustments to make and a more demanding learning curve when moving to Windows 7. Chief among those adjustments is the UAC and what it does and doesn’t allow.
• The biggest issue with Win7 installations is still application compatibility. Before you install, test all of your enterprise’s mission-critical applications to make sure they’re compatible with Win7.
• Be prepared to outfit your company PCs with the hardware resources necessary to accommodate a more demanding OS that can do more than your old one could.
The Good News
Remember those PC/Mac commercials that made fun of how often Vista asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?” That is a thing of the past, according to experts who have helped with many a Win7 installation. Microsoft learned some lessons from the Vista debacle. For example, the UAC (User Account Control), which was responsible for a lot of the difficulties—or at least annoyances—with Vista, has relaxed this time around, and Microsoft redesigned it to be a little more flexible and customizable.
Also, although missing drivers may still be a problem for companies that have older hardware, there haven’t been as many problems with drivers this time. And although application compatibility is still potentially a problem for new users, Win7 is more flexible than Vista and offers a Virtual XP mode for applications that simply can’t work with Win7.
Still, there are potential problems with Win7, and one of those problems is application compatibility. The potential difficulty stems from several sources, and one of those sources is the UAC. “The UAC locks down machines against viruses, spyware, and other problems,” explains Pete Lee, engagement manager for SWC Technology Partners (www.swc.com). “But that added level of security does make it hard for users to maneuver.”
For example, although many IT professionals used to design applications to write log files to the Program Files folder, the UAC no longer allows that, nor does it allow access to some areas of the Registry after install. IT managers who don’t test before installing are likely to find their applications breaking, and there are only so many ways around it.
“In Windows 7, you can still give yourself admin rights, but even at that level, they’re locking out areas that people shouldn’t play with for security reasons,” says Chip Bates, director of product development for Converter Technology (www.convertertechnology.com). “These are good security features, and most administrators will appreciate them once their applications are configured to work under those constructions.”
James Wedeking, solutions director at IT services provider Technisource (www.technisource.com), warns that although there are fewer problems with Win7 than there were with Vista, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. “There are still some major applications, such as Adobe CS3 and below, that were found to have issues with Windows 7 and did not function properly,” Wedeking says. “These must be taken into account before a deployment can take place.”
Microsoft has a spreadsheet, the Windows 7 Application Compatibility List, that includes all applications that have been verified to be compatible with Win7. Bates recommends checking that list and thoroughly testing any application that isn’t on it before installing Win7 on a wide scale.
As many IT managers already know, Win7 offers the option of running applications that can’t play nice with Win7 in virtual WinXP mode. For organizations that go with the 64-bit version and find that their 32- or 16-bit applications just can’t be rigged to work, Virtual XP might seem like a godsend, and it is—but it’s a short-term godsend, explains Wedeking. “While the concept is outstanding, it is important to know that this is really a full Windows XP operating system running on a more integrated virtual PC platform for Windows 7,” he says. “The system is a full system and functions as such, so it must be added to the domain and be included in a patch management program just as if it were a discrete Windows XP system.”
Additionally, adding XP Mode to an already complex deployment might offset the convenience of avoiding application incompatibility, in the long term if not in the short. “If time allows, you may be better off solving your application compatibility issues with other options, such as compatibility shims, application virtualization, or just upgrading or replacing the application with a Windows 7-compatible option,” Wedeking says.
Don’t Spare The Horses
No matter how you slice it, a Win7 installation is going to demand more from your infrastructure. Win7 chews up more processing power and memory than WinXP, and many shops are going to be upgrading from WinXP rather than Vista. PCs running Win7 need at least a 1GHz processor, a gig of RAM for 32-bit or 2GB for 64-bit, and 16GB of available hard drive space for 32-bit or 20GB for 64-bit.
If your budget is small and you’re thinking about making do, you might want to rethink that decision. “Given the very low cost of replacement hardware that already includes Windows 7, it is generally a big mistake to try to upgrade hardware and especially peripherals (except for printers) that are more than three to five years old,” says Phil Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software (www.liebsoft.com). “Most users should use the 64-bit version of Windows 7 with a minimum 4GB of memory. We have seen Windows systems with 1GB of memory, and it is simply not enough.”
Converter Technology’s Bates, who has done a lot of testing in Win7, says that he hasn’t tested to see how low it’s possible to go with system resources, but he doesn’t think the system requirements are overstated. “You might be able to get by with less than Microsoft suggests, but you might see a slowdown and be unhappy with it,” he says.
by Holly Dolezalek
Don’t Underestimate The Importance Of Testing |
The short answer to the question of how to avoid problems: Test, test, and test again, and come up with a deployment strategy that includes ample time to do so. “Particularly for users who are upgrading from XP rather than Vista, Windows 7 is going to be a big adjustment,” says Pete Lee, engagement manager for SWC Technology Partners (www.swc.com). “Use Microsoft’s Deployment Toolkit to create a strategy and manage the complexity of the install and test everything to make sure that what you need to work the day after still works.”