RealTime IT News

New Tools Ease Vista Deployment Pains

REDMOND, Wash. -- Microsoft  CEO Steve Ballmer tried to temper expectations for enterprise sales of Vista last week, but that doesn't mean the company isn't trying to push its new operating system (OS) all the same.

The software giant today introduced a set of tools intended to help IT administrators sniff out compatibility problems between the new operating system and applications running in their environments, make hardware upgrade decisions and facilitate the roll-out of Vista to individual desktops.

Michael Burk, a spokesman for the Windows marketing communications group, explained that Microsoft aims to learn from its stumbles in rolling out XP.

Enterprise adoption of XP was in the low single digits in percentage terms during the first year of availability, and Burk said the goal of these tools is to make Vista "the fastest-adopted OS by business of any we've ever released."

Microsoft has also received more feedback from a greater number of beta testers and customers participating in its TAP early adopter program than it did in earlier new product introductions.

As a result, these applications are being made generally available within three months of November's launch date, compared with the 6 to 12 months it took to introduce the XP version of these applications.

The linchpin of the toolkit is the solution accelerator for business desktop development application (BDD), which includes single image engineering and deployment capabilities, user state migration tools and remote deployment tools.

The applications are intended to help lower the cost of deployment in an enterprise, which Burk said had been as high as $1,000 per desktop.

"We want to get more towards zero-touch deployment" where IT staff can roll out the new OS "in a single image blast across the organization," Burk told internetnews.com.

These kind of tools will save administrators from having to visit individual users or spend as much time configuring the OS for different user profiles.

Peter McKiernan, senior communications manager for Windows, explained that the new image format is flexible enough to allow administrators to reconfigure individual machines with a single XML file without having to back up data files to a network drive.

"You can apply an image to the disk without having to erase all the data that's already on it," McKiernan explained.

"When you look at things that held up deployment in the XP timeframe, and then you look at what's available with Vista, it's not an apples to apples comparison," he said.

One of the lessons that Microsoft has learned from past experience is that software implementations often fail for reasons that have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with poor project planning.

The BDD application thus addresses the human side of implementations by providing templates and best practice scenarios that help organizations identify who the key stakeholders are and when they need to become involved.

Microsoft has also rolled out ancillary applications to help administrators make better decisions about hardware and software readiness and compatibility.

For instance, the Windows Vista Hardware Assessment tool helps customers determine which PCs in their environment need to be upgraded by taking an inventory of all the equipment on the network and producing a detailed report with upgrade recommendations for each piece of hardware.

The Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0 (ACT) includes tools that allow software developers, independent software vendors (ISVs) and IT administrators to determine whether existing applications are compatible with Vista and suggestions on how to resolve conflicts before the OS is even deployed within an organization.

The toolkit also includes Virtual PC 2007, which lets administrators virtualize earlier versions of Windows in order to allow certain applications to continue running that aren't compatible with Vista.

Forrester Research analyst Ray Wang noted that application management is a vital part of Microsoft's strategy.

"Putting those tools back into the hands of the administrators is key," he told internetnews.com.

The tools are free to all customers and available on Microsoft.com or TechNet.