Vista Deployment – It’s About Compatibility

Starting to plan for Windows Vista testing and deployment? Don’t forget to plan in parallel for your applications -- both business productivity as well as corporate apps.

Applications and operating systems are tightly intertwined. One wouldn’t exist without the other. So, obviously, one of the first tasks will be to compatibility test all existing apps plus anything new or receiving a major upgrade to cash in on Vista’s new capabilities – like, Office 2007, for instance.

Office 2007

Actually, with Office 2007, there are two levels of compatibility testing to think about. First there’s the question of whether the new version of Office runs 100 percent bug free on top of Vista. Of course, that’s really Microsoft’s problem so you shouldn’t have to worry about that part.

However, many, if not most, companies create customized applications by writing code on top of Office. Due to some subtle and not-so-subtle changes in Vista, some of that custom code may get tripped up.

Among the areas to watch out for are changes in the user interface, as well as some macros that may no longer work properly.

“Developers and administrators interested in the new suite will want to take some preliminary steps to mitigate possible problems before rolling Office 2007 out,” said Rob Helm, director of research at industry newsletter Directions on Microsoft, in a phone interview. “[For instance,] older macros could be a challenge.”

Overall, of course, most beta testers have given Office 2007 a thumbs up. But there still may be issues to deal with.

For instance, Helm said he has questions regarding whether Office 2007 will be able to co-exist with earlier versions of some Office applications. “That’s a big question . . . for instance, you might want to run Project 2003 with Office 2007,” he added.

Application Compatibility Toolkit Version 5.0

Besides Office, what about third-party applications or corporate business critical apps?

One of the key tools that IT staffs will want to use to prepare for Vista’s arrival is the Microsoft Compatibility Toolkit version 5.0. This most recent version provides specific support for evaluating Vista deployments.

Take Vista’s new User Account Control (UAC), which now automatically restricts the authorization level that an application can run at, for example. Some older applications, especially, may require administrator’s rights in order to run. UAC does not allow that, a point that Microsoft began to make almost a year ago. That will require changes to those applications or, in some instances, creation of new apps that do not demand unrestricted rights.

“Certain areas of the registry and file system are now off limits to most users . . .This is an important step forward in providing default security but it has the potential to cause problems,” said Scott Golightly, a senior principal consultant at global business and IT services firm Keane, Inc., in an e-mail interview.

Among other tools, the compatibility toolkit includes the User Account Control Compatibility Evaluator, which is designed to identify “potential compatibility issues due to permission restrictions enforced by User Account Control,” according to documents on Microsoft’s Website.

The toolkit also contains components for inventory collection and evaluation of installed applications. Additionally, it includes a pair of components called the Update Impact Analyzer, which aims to identify potential application compatibility issues due to new Windows Update deployments, and the Internet Explorer Compatibility Evaluator, which identifies potential Web application and Web site issues.

Business Desktop Deployment

The Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0 also comes as part of the Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) 2007. Microsoft just shipped its Beta 2 of the Solution Accelerator.

“The bundle contains the latest versions of Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0, Windows PE 2.0, User State Migration Tool 3.0 along with Windows Deployment Services incorporating the new tools of ImageX, System Image Manager for creating and managing images under the new WIM format,” Joe Homnick, CEO of Homnick Systems, a small IT training and consulting firm in Boca Raton, Florida, said in an e-mail interview.

WIM is Vista’s new system imaging format called Windows Image format, which is meant to simplify deployments via the use of a single image file rather than multiple files. (See “Vista Deployment – As in Hollywood, Image Is Everything,” Sept. 11.)

The Solution Accelerator provides feature team guides that explain each deployment process, as well as sample including templates, scripts and configuration files. It also includes a framework for delivering Vista using so-called Zero Touch Installation (ZTI).

ZTI uses Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS), but there is also a non-SMS solution called the Lite Touch Installation (LTI) framework, Homnick pointed out.

“LTI gives the administrators many of the capabilities of ZTI . . . just lacking the automatic start of the upgrade/installation process through an SMS package,” Homnick said. “This is replaced by a link that can be distributed via email or placed on a website.” The link launches a deployment wizard with only a few questions required to be answered.

Closing Advice

Granted that many, if not most, corporate IT shops will wait for Vista and Office 2007 to ship in final form, or even wait for Service Pack 1, before beginning full-scale testing or pilot deployments. (See “Windows Vista Deployment -- Playing the Waiting Game,” Feb. 13.)

That does not mean it is too early to begin preparations, however.

Directions on Microsoft’s Helm is one observer who suggests starting now. “The beta [of Office 2007] is quite stable so get at least one person into the beta program and download the resource kit,” he added.

Keane’s Golightly agrees.

“The general advice for any upgrade still applies. You should try to set up a lab environment that mimics the critical parts of your infrastructure [and] in the controlled environment test out all of your critical applications to make sure they still work as expected,” said Keane’s Golightly. “Once you are feeling confident bring on line a beta team of tech savvy individuals who can help troubleshoot any issues that you might have, and then roll out to everyone else.”

Other Vista deployment resources are available from Microsoft here.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.