Ready for Windows 7? Here's how to deploy it right

From hardware to licensing, you need to make the right choices to smooth the transition and get the most out of Windows 7.

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Addressing hardware and software compatibility issues

Before you begin rolling out Windows 7, be sure to deploy it in a smaller environment to test your systems. That way you can identify if your PCs have any issues with their hardware or software. You can try running Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor utility (currently in beta). You can also quickly test PCs' support for Windows 7 using InfoWorld's free Windows Sentinel tool.

However, if you need a more serious tool for your organization, go with the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (MAP) 4.0, shown below. MAP provides an agentless scan of your systems to inventory your system hardware, checks for compatibility, and reports where you stand.

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Microsoft assessment and planning toolkit

The Microsoft assessment and planning toolkit (MAP). Click to view larger image.

If you have legacy 16-bit applications, note that they will not run in the 64-bit version of Windows 7. You can run them in the new XP Mode virtual machine that comes with the Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise versions of Windows 7, or natively in the 32-bit version of Windows 7. XP Mode is useful not only for running 16-bit apps but for any programs that require legacy application compatibility.

To use XP Mode, your PCs must support processor based virtualization (either Intel-VT or AMD-V), which leaves out a lot of older PCs. Users start and run applications in XP Mode just as they do native applications; however, these applications cannot take advantage of native Windows 7 features such as the Aero interface.

From the software perspective, you may want to look into the Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) 5.5; it has a variety of tools that help determine which applications will function smoothly in Windows 7 and which ones will give you trouble.

ACT does require a local agent be installed on the systems you are testing; those agents drill down into the systems to find every last application you've forgotten about and report them back to the server. Typically you don't need to scan every single machine in the enterprise; a few representative machines from different departments and locations should provide enough of a baseline.

Microsoft Standard User Analyzer

The Microsoft Standard User Analyzer (SUA). Click to view larger image.

One of my personal favorite tools from the Application Compatibility Toolkit is the Standard User Analyzer (SUA), shown at right, which requires you to install the Application Verifier tool. SUA lets you loosen User Access Control (UAC) permissions for standard users for those applications that UAC causes to issue many "are you sure?" messages. (UAC's overeagerness was one of users' main dislikes of Vista.)

Addressing the licensing question

Now that you've done the footwork and have PCs ready to deploy, it's time to think about licensing and activation. In enterprise deployments, it's best to use a volume license and the product activation approach called Volume Activation (VA) introduced with Vista. To use VA, you need either a Multiple Activation Key (MAK) or a Key Management Server (KMS), which requires a KMS key. The mechanics of getting these keys is complicated, so Microsoft has a help page on how to do it.

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