Windows 7 Deployment Highlighted in TechMentor Keynote

A keynote talk today on deploying Windows 7 by a Microsoft official signaled the start of Day 2 at the TechMentor 2010 event, which is ongoing this week in Las Vegas.

Stephen L. Rose, Microsoft's senior community manager for Windows OS, spoke for an hour about the various deployment tools that Microsoft provides for free and how to use them before the largely IT pro crowd. Rose also provided some news along the way, such as that the release candidate of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 "will be coming out soon."

Still, Rose told the audience that they should not wait for the first service pack to deploy Windows 7, which is a "common-wisdom" refrain among IT pros. He contended that Microsoft has been reducing the frequency of its Windows service pack releases over the years. Windows NT had  six service packs but Windows Vista had just one. Windows 7 SP1 will contain no new features for the desktop operating system, he said. The main benefits will be two virtualization improvements for Windows Server 2008 R2, along with an update rollup.

Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft's newest Web browser that was launched as a beta last month, will be moving to the release candidate stage. Rose didn't say when that would happen but he said Microsoft was "very excited about the release candidate" and that it may have some new features. Those testing the IE 9 beta can hit F12 on the keyboard to toggle down the compatibility mode if experiencing problems viewing some sites with the IE 9 beta.

The Windows Intune beta is still available to try, offering PC maintenance support for up to 25 seats, Rose said. He added that when the new service is commercially offered, Microsoft will price it at $10 per seat per month. Windows Intune provides a single control panel to help simplify the management of PCs by IT organizations.

In response to questions, Rose provide a few details on upcoming Microsoft product announcements. For instance an audience member was interested in when Windows 7-based tablet devices might be seen. Rose said that Microsoft will be making an announcement "in the next few weeks" that Windows 7-based tablets will be on the market before Christmas. Microsoft has been taking its time to produce a good product and Rose suggested that a second wave of "amazing" Windows 7-based tablets would be seen closer to a new OS release. He praised Apple's iPad tablet device but questioned its enterprise capabilities, saying he didn't know how to lock down the iPad device or how to install a custom app on it ("you can't!").

Regarding the new Windows OS release called "Windows 8," that's about two years off. Rose noted that this Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of Windows 7's release, and Microsoft typically releases a new operating system every three years. Hence, the two-year estimate for Windows 8's release, which might occur sometime in October 2012, if Microsoft keeps to that schedule.

Rose talked a little about the Windows Phone 7 OS, which was unveiled on Oct. 11. He confirmed that all Microsoft employees get a Windows Phone 7-based device for free. He said that Windows Phone 7 will enable full management via all of the Microsoft Exchange tools. He added that Microsoft intends to release a stripped-down version of Windows Phone 7 for businesses "by early spring [2011]."

For the main focus of the talk, deploying Windows 7, Rose asked his audience for a show of hands on how many worked in companies that still used Windows XP. Nearly all hands went up. He went through  ten comments he's received why IT pros haven't moved to Windows 7. The ten included "expense," "application incompatibility" issues, the "higher learning curve" of Windows 7, insufficient difference between Windows 7 and Windows XP, waiting for Windows 8, the "poor economy" and the prospect of having to do a new install. He included some joke items in the ten items.

Rose questioned the viability of the eight-year-old Windows XP. He showed pictures of state of the art devices at the time of XP's release, including a brick-like cell phone, an old IBM PC with floppy drives and a typewriter (with "no screen"). He said that XP was not built for today's security and wireless networking needs. IT pros should ask, "Does XP still make sense?" Currently, more than 60 percent of organizations are piloting Window 7, Rose said, and 11 percent of organizations have completed their Windows 7 upgrades.

On the app incompatibility issue, Rose said that 60 percent to 80 percent of applications that ran on XP will work on Windows 7. The ones that don't work typically are eight years old and have never been upgraded, he said. He recommended Microsoft's Proof of Concept Jumpstart Kit, a free "awesome tool" that provides a testing environment to check app compatibilty.

Rose agreed that there is a higher learning curve with Windows 7, and he suggested it would take IT pros some time to appease less sophisticated Windows users within organizations that expect to see the same look and feel, particularly with the use of the Ribbon menu system. He also argued that there are reasons to move to Windows 7 as an improvement over XP besides the eventual expiring support for the OS, expected in April 2012.

Mostly, Rose presented the idea that upgrading to Windows 7 was fairly easy. He demonstrated a new physical-to-virtual (P2V) migration tool that's part of the free Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) solution. During the talk, he bundled up an XP desktop into a virtual machine using the P2V tool, showing that the whole process took slightly more than an hour to complete. Using the P2V migration tool requires being a Software Assurance customer, he noted. The tool includes BitLocker security support, so IT pros can set that up in advance. He also noted that everything that IT pros do using the MDT can be used in System Center Configuration Manager, which is Microsoft's enterprise-grade deployment solution. MDT automatically comes with drivers and can build an image that will fit on an 8 GB USB memory stick. MDT also includes the Office Customization Tool for those upgrading Office.

Rose answered questions from the audience on a number of topics, including hardware compatibility with Windows 7. He recommended the ability to install 2 GB of RAM on a legacy PC to run Windows 7. Any machine that was downgraded to Vista should be able to run Windows 7, he said. Rose recommended backing up data and doing clean installs (called "custom installs" by Microsoft) when moving to Windows 7. Although it is possible to upgrade from Vista to Windows 7 without a clean install, Rose didn't recommend it.

Rose was asked about the differences between MDT and WDS (Windows Deployment Services). He said that WDS allows the user to develop an offline image. He noted that any work done in MDT will also work in WDS. Finally, Rose was asked about the estimated release date of a Federal Desktop Core Configuration for Windows 7. He said it is moving forward, and might be expected by this spring, but noted that others in the Microsoft team were more knowledgeable about such details.

This year's TechMentor has its usual colleagial feel, with Rose soliciting questions from the audience. TechMentor is a series of events for IT pros produced by 1105 Media Inc., focusing on Active Directory, PowerShell, and virtualization, as well as management issues associated with Windows and the Microsoft software stack. (Disclosure note: the author works for 1105 Media.)


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