Windows 8 Migration Tools for Early Adopters

With analysts at Gartner Inc. discouraging enterprises from upgrading to Windows 8 yet, the expectation is for a fairly slow rollout of the radically different OS. For customers willing to leap right away, though, there are a few tools that partners can use to ease migrations.

Microsoft has made no bones about the fact that Windows 8, launched in late October, is a wholly different breed of OS. Besides the cosmetic changes delivered by the new Windows UI, the new OS is distinctly more app- and cloud-centric than previous Windows OSes. Additionally, the focus on touch opens the door for more form factors in the enterprise.

It might be too early to tell whether Windows 8 will be a coup or a bust among businesses, but CEO Steve Ballmer, for his part, is bullish. Ballmer reportedly predicted at this summer's Seoul Digital Forum that Windows 8 will have 500 million users worldwide by the end of next year. It's a lofty prediction from the typically ostentatious Ballmer -- but will companies bite the migration bullet?

Problems with the Plumbing
Not if they're moving from Windows XP, according to Gartner Inc. In a presentation held in late September titled, "Preparing for the End of Windows XP; Is Windows 8 in Your Future?" the research firm made clear that for organizations that still haven't migrated from the more-than-decade-old Windows XP -- which has its end-of-life date set for April 8, 2014 -- the answer to that question should be: "No."

Instead, organizations still on Windows XP should move to Windows 7, advised Steve Kleynhans, a research vice president at Gartner.

"Get Windows 7 done, and then you can start to experiment and dabble with Windows 8, but don't let Windows 8 derail your Windows 7 upgrade project," Kleynhans said, noting that organizations should consider Windows 8 only as a "special project" -- and only after they finish migrating to Windows 7.

On its face, Gartner's recommendation doesn't seem to bode well for Ballmer's "500 million Windows 8 users" prediction, at least from a business angle.

"We really don't think Windows 8 will get significant traction as a PC OS in a corporate environment," Kleynhans said.

That's because Gartner characterizes Windows 8 as a "plumbing" release, not a "polishing" release. The former are releases that include significant changes from previous versions; the latter are releases that are designed to refine the changes in plumbing releases. Polishing releases are typically more stable and, as a result, are better sellers.

Like Windows 2000 and Windows Vista before it, Windows 8 -- which Microsoft itself is touting as a "reimagining" of the Windows OS -- falls in Gartner's plumbing category.

Gartner cites two more reasons organizations should forgo Windows 8 migrations for the time being: the current dearth of support from ISVs, and the impending end-of-life date of Windows XP, which Gartner says will likely arrive before IT is able to complete the amount of testing it will take to move to Windows 8.

So far, it looks like many organizations are taking Gartner's advice. "Windows 7 migration is the single biggest project for most organizations today," the research firm said. And a full 60 percent of Gartner poll respondents said their Windows 7 migrations are "well under way."

A Platform, Not a Desktop, Decision
Walker White, the chief technology officer of Mountain View, Calif.-based BDNA Corp., is also seeing some of Gartner's advice in action through his own company. But for him, whether organizations should move to Windows 8 -- and when -- is more than a black-and-white question.

"Windows 8 isn't just a desktop decision -- it's a platform decision. There are all sorts of new technologies that come along with that."

Walker White, CTO, BDNA Corp.

"What we're seeing right now is peak demand for Windows 7 migration. There is some interest in Windows 8, but it's really [in the] periphery," White acknowledges. However, he adds that he expects "some leading enterprises will adopt Windows 8" in the near-term.

BDNA, a Microsoft Gold ISV, provides organizations with a catalog-like resource called Technopedia that compiles information on roughly 190,000 software releases and 200,000 hardware models, translated into what the company calls the "common language of IT." The information in Technopedia ranges from support and compatibility details to end-of-life dates.

According to White, clients are already seeking out the BDNA Technopedia tool for information they can use for a potential Windows 8 migration. To that end, the ISV has been updating Technopedia with Windows 8 compatibility information.

Like Gartner, however, White senses that Windows 7 will be the go-to platform for many enterprises moving from Windows XP, at least in the near-term.

"Windows 7 is a very safe decision," he says, noting that after three years since its release, Windows 7 has the advantage of proven stability and few, if any, unknown support issues. "[Window 7] is a desktop decision. Windows 8 is not just a desktop decision -- it's a platform decision. There are all sorts of new technologies that come along with that: integration with mobile, its reliance on cloud technologies, the app store and all the other it's not just the new UI."

Eventually, though, White sees more organizations making the leap to Windows 8. After all, it took Windows 7 several years -- and Microsoft ending support for Windows XP -- to catch fire.

"Maybe what [enterprises] end up doing is they get halfway through a Windows 7 migration and say, 'OK, it's going to be fine,' so they do a migration to Windows 8," White says. "I do think there will be those leading-edge organizations that will be willing to take the opportunity [to move to Windows 8]...but I think the vast majority of them are pretty comfortable with Windows 7. They aren't prepared to make that platform decision, so they're just going to stick with the desktop decision."

Key to assessing a company's readiness for Windows 8, according to White, is whether the company is aware of and receptive to all of the changes that make the new OS so revolutionary.

"Windows 8 has a very heavy reliance on cloud technology," White points out, as an example. "Is the organization willing to and ready to adopt that? Are they willing to accept the Microsoft app store? Are they willing to accept the new Metro UI? Are they willing to accept these other aspects of Windows 8 that make it so much more of a platform decision than just a desktop decision?"

But it's important to remember that those questions are all in addition to the overarching one of whether Windows 8 can shake the shadow of its predecessor. "Frankly," White says, "the greatest competitor that Microsoft has for Windows 8 is, unfortunately, Windows 7."

'The Variables Are Increased'
For Paul Szemerenyi, vice president of North American Channel Sales at London-based 1E Ltd., the issues partners will encounter with Windows 8 migrations are much the same as the issues they would find with any other OS.

"The amount of devices that we're talking about for Windows 8 will be enhanced. We're not just talking about PCs and laptops -- it's a whole myriad of handheld and mobile devices."

Paul Szemerenyi, Vice President, North American Channel Sales, 1E Ltd.

"There are a couple of things you'll find in any business," Szemerenyi says. "You're going to find the early adopters. You're going to find the guys who will bypass Windows 7 because they want to go on the latest and greatest technology that's available. And you're going to find the guys who are going to let the early adopters go first, and a year later -- once they deem it to be a more stable and experienced and widely adopted piece of technology -- then they'll have a look at Windows 8. I've seen both in the marketplace already."

1E, a Microsoft partner with gold competencies in ISV, Desktop, Software Development and Web Development, specializes in making companies' IT departments more efficient. The company offers services aimed at consolidating servers, reducing energy consumption, managing software licensing issues, fixing network bandwidth constraints and automating software updates, including Windows 8 migrations.

1E describes its approach to migrations, including to Windows 8, as one of "100 percent automation." The company's process cuts time-consuming on-site visits, and thus promises lower costs and a faster migration overall.

According to Szemerenyi, one potential problem point that's unique to Windows 8 is the wider variety of hardware that the new OS embraces -- good for the growing number of businesses whose employees are increasingly accessing business-critical applications on mobile devices, but bad for administrators who may not have anticipated the added complexity.

"The amount of devices that we're talking about for Windows 8 will be enhanced. We're not just talking about PCs and laptops -- it's a whole myriad of handheld and mobile devices," Szemerenyi says, adding, "We need to look at what's supported. The variables are increased and will be ever-increasing as the operating system moves on in the future."

Aside from the difficulty of ensuring support for a wide array of devices, Szemerenyi says that one of the biggest pitfalls partners and organizations need to be wary of in moving to Windows 8 -- as with other migration projects, regardless of OS -- is lack of preparation, which leads to inefficiencies.

"I've seen large organizations that still don't understand the business and technical challenges that lie ahead when they start getting involved in any kind of operating system deployment," he says.

A Quick Roundup: Tools and Resources
Despite the cautionary notes from Gartner and other IT analyst firms, for early adopters of Windows 8 there are already a handful of tools and migration services available, with more likely to be rolled out in the future. Here are a few of them:

  • Technopedia from BDNA: BDNA is touting its Technopedia offering as "the world's most comprehensive IT reference catalog," with critical information on IT products from thousands of vendors worldwide. For those looking to make the move to Windows 8, BDNA is now updating Technopedia for the new OS, providing information to early adopters on issues such as compatibility, important product milestone dates and licensing.

  • Nomad Enterprise from 1E: 1E has several offerings geared toward streamlining IT processes, including migrations to Windows 8. One is Nomad Enterprise, which is powered by Microsoft System Center 2012 Configuration Manager. Nomad Enterprise automates software upgrades and deployments, which reduces the manpower -- and consequently the cost -- required for such projects. It also promises to use only an organization's available bandwidth for upgrades and deployments, which minimizes the amount of interruptions to that company's daily operations.

  • Training Courses from QuickStart Intelligence Corp.: Though not specifically aimed at migration, the new QuickStart Windows 8 training courses could prove invaluable to partners and IT pros who are preparing their respective clients and organizations to make the move. Irvine, Calif.-based QuickStart, one of Microsoft's largest Gold Learning Partners, cites several reasons Windows 8 presents a potentially steep learning curve, including the radically different UI, the baked-in security improvements and new mobility features such as Windows to Go, which lets end users access an imaged version of Windows 8 on a USB stick.

    The new QuickStart Windows 8 courses are designed to help partners and IT pros wrap their heads around these changes and challenges. As of this writing, the company is offering seven courses with topics covering Windows 8 deployment, development, troubleshooting and more. Each class lasts between one day (with fees starting at $395) and five days ($2,795).

  • PCmover for Windows 8 from Laplink Software: The popular migration tool from Microsoft Gold ISV Laplink is now available for Windows 8. PCmover for Windows 8 enables the transfer of files, folders, settings and applications between PCs running older versions of Windows to PCs running Windows 8. The product retails at $40 for the Home edition and $60 for the Professional edition; those interested in the Business/Enterprise edition can contact Laplink for a quote.

    Notably, Laplink is expecting "the largest migration ever to a new OS" for Windows 8, with 125 million users in North America projected to move to the new OS over the next year-and-a-half. But the move will not be problem-free, according to Laplink CEO Thomas Koll.

    "We expect users of Windows 7 will be able to upgrade to the same 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows 8, but most other situations are likely to be difficult," Koll said in a prepared statement this past summer, announcing the upgrades his company is making to PCmover in preparation for Windows 8. "For Windows XP users, upgrading to Windows 8 will be a nightmare and almost impossible -- which is still about half of all PCs. Windows Vista users will have limited options and will likely lose all their applications."

  • Zinstall: Migration specialist Zinstall announced recently that its entire product line now supports migrations to Windows 8 from Windows XP and Windows 7. The company offers migration solutions for both home users and enterprises. Its solutions include Zinstall WinWin, a PC-to-PC migration tool; Zinstall zPOD, a "PC in a pocket" tool similar to the Windows To Go feature in Windows 8; and the Zinstall Migration Suite for organizations.

  • Quest Workspace Desktop Virtualization from Quest Software: In June, Quest Software (now a part of Dell Inc.) released version 7.6 of its desktop virtualization offering with new "experimental" support for Windows 8 as well as Windows Server 2012, with the purpose of helping users get acclimated to the two products before they make the switch.

    "Specifically, we offer customers the ability to start benefiting from some of the great user experience improvements that Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 introduce," the company said at the time, adding that the added support for Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 makes version 7.6 a first-to-market product in its category.

  • K1000 Systems Management Appliance from Dell KACE: The next version of the Dell KACE management appliance, scheduled to be released in November, will also include support for Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. "As the Windows 8 x86-based tablets hit the market in the coming months, the new release positions IT to support organizations and users that adopt these devices," the company said in a release announcing the expanded support.

    Version 5.4 of the K1000 will include 100 additional improvements. Pricing is expected to start at $8,900 at release.

In addition to these offerings, Microsoft has recently ramped up its efforts to draw partners' attention to its own Windows 8 resources.

"Customers are curious about what's in store, and interest is high, which means that now is the right time to get the training you need to have conversations with your customers that lead to sales," wrote Kati Quigley in a blog post in early October on the Microsoft Partner Perspectives page.

Quigley urged partners to consult their partner account managers on how to join Windows 8 training and certification programs. She also advised partners to take advantage of the sales and marketing content that's available through the Microsoft Partner Marketing Center.