Anxious to reap the oft-touted benefits of Windows 7, you may want to jump right into a pilot implementation. But to realize the maximum and most effective return on your latest OS investment and to ensure user buy-in for the initiative, it’s prudent to take a step back and test all your existing applications for compatibility.
No doubt you’ve standardized on many applications, from spreadsheets and presentation tools to word processors and customer relationship management. But how many IT executives can guarantee that end users are running only corporate-approved tools? Who truly knows how many user-downloaded tools, orphan applications, and customized programs lurk throughout your network? The only way to be certain, then, is a PC to laptop treasure hunt to locate all applications and test their compatibility with Windows 7 before entering the migration fray.
After all, 54% of IT executives cite application-testing as the most successful way to mitigate deployment problems, according to a March 2010 report by Info-Tech. While smaller businesses may solely depend on off-the-shelf software, larger companies’ software mix also often includes proprietary, customized, and non-IT installed applications, says Mark Tauschek, director of research at the London, Ontario research firm.
“Certainly, for large enterprises the biggest pitfall is application compatibility,” Tauchek says. “Custom-built or customized software could be kind of a showstopper.”
While upfront testing make seem a time-consuming pain, not testing applications for compatibility could well result in lost productivity for end-users, increased stress on IT personnel, unacceptable system down-time, the potential for lost revenue, and overall disillusionment with Windows 7. The last thing you want to hear is, “This used to work when we were on the old system.”
“This is an ongoing process and procedure that is monitored continuously. IT is viewed by many business users as a commodity and something that can be self-service,” says Mark Buechler, principal and CTO at m.b.consulting.
PC by PC
In addition to using third-party applications and Microsoft offerings, such as its Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.5 and Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit, IT professionals should conduct time-intensive and accurate manual software audits, recommends Tauschek. While this may elicit groans, it is the only way to ensure no orphan application or department-installed favorite is overlooked. Unlike tools that accurately detect and test network-attached hardware, no automated solution delivers a 100% guarantee of accuracy and completeness, he says.
“I can inventory my hardware with a free tool and see if my hardware will be compatible with Windows 7. The challenge with automated application compatibility tools is they will go out, inventory, and check for compatibility with known apps but a lot of companies have tools built in-house within business units that have become business-critical applications,” says Tauschek. “They’re not necessarily on the radar of IT from an application inventory perspective, and might get missed by that tool.”
Often these non-standard or custom applications power-up the heart of a company or department, agrees Rudy van Dalen, technical consultant at Platani Nederland B.V., a Dutch consulting and integration firm with many clients that plan to migrate to Windows 7 in the near future.
“A lot of companies have customized or proprietary software that is many times more important for business continuity,” van Dalen says. “In my opinion, you cannot skip this part. Depending on the IT infrastructure and how many rights users have on their workstations, you really need to do this.”
Even standard applications may not have a Windows 7 migration path. “At my Life Science industry clients, Windows 7 (and Vista) are currently incompatible with their Quality Management Systems,” says Buechler. “The vendor of the QMS does not yet plan to port to Vista or 7, so, much testing would be required.”
Some businesses may have a less onerous challenge. Armada Services, an Australian IT service provider, prevents end-users from downloading software, preventing the use of non-standard applications on company-owned PCs and notebooks, says Phillip McSherry, senior technical engineer and Windows 7 SOE project manager, who oversees the firm’s migration from Windows XP SP3. ”SOE is managed via Altiris Deployment Solutions so users cannot install applications on workstations,” he says.
Through the Obstacle Course
IT departments are not facing this challenge alone. Many well-established consulting firms offer application-testing services, including the all-too-tedious task of inventorying each and every piece of software in-use. On the other hand, Platani clients generally use internal staff for application inventorying and testing, and turn to the consulting firm for guidance and problem-resolution recommendations, says van Dalen.
“It’s really about the internal capabilities. I think there’s certainly a place for many organizations to outsource that activity,” says Tauscher.
Businesses also may opt for application virtualization, which abstracts users’ applications from their systems. Virtual applications — including updates, add-ons and settings — can then run on any operating system. This creates a consistent user experience, regardless of OS, and was designed in part to reduce incompatibilities and the costs associated with regression testing and upgrades.
Armada Services hosts all proprietary software off-site using Citrix, says McSheery. “A pilot group did test the functionality of Citrix-based apps,” he says. “The main issue uncovered with app testing was 64-bit compatibility. This forced us to revert to a 32-bit SOE as opposed to the originally-planned 64-bit SOE.”
While you’re testing your internal applications, independent software developers are scurrying to ensure Windows 7 compatibility. The Microsoft Compatibility Center features a growing list of applications that work well with Windows 7 in 32- or 64-bit. Another list offers a summary of those that have pledged to support the new OS.
“I think the first step to take is to ask the software vendor is there is a version that is compatible with Windows. Second option would be to test if the software would run in Compatibility Mode,” says van Dalen. “If not, maybe Application Virtualization will do the trick. The last and least preferable option would be to look at MED-V.”
For its part, m.b.consulting now runs 32-bit Windows 7 on mobile devices and 64-bit Windows on PCs. “We all have XP and Vista Virtual machines on Sun’s VirtualBox for incompatible apps and testing,” Buehler says. “Windows 7 has operated well.”
Sure, spending time and money inventorying software and testing them for compatibility may be time-consuming and onerous; but it is far less painful than rushing into an implementation, only to slam into the even more costly and disruptive problems untested, unknown applications can create.
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