Windows 7: Seven Tips for a Smooth Migration

Are you thinking about migrating to Windows 7? It’s not hard, but due diligence and good planning are paramount for a successful migration. You need to follow best practices, which includes tapping into Microsoft’s readily available — mostly free — tools and resources.

To start you off on the right path, our top seven tips will tell you everything you need to know for a smooth transition to Windows 7.

1. Determine which of your existing PCs will support Windows 7

Many small businesses will wait until they’re ready to buy new PCs before migrating to Windows 7. But if you’re considering upgrading to or installing Windows 7 on existing PCs, then you need to know which of your machines have what it takes to support the new operating system.

Microsoft offers two different tools — both free and downloadable — to help you make the determination.

If you have only a few PCs, you will probably want to use the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. You download and install the software tool on each individual PC. It analyzes the resources available — processing power, memory, etc. — and tells you if the computer will support Win7. Or the Advisor may recommend a memory or hard drive upgrade to bring the computer up to minimum specifications.

If you have many PCs on a client-server network, consider using the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit for Windows 7 Enterprise. It automatically and remotely probes your computers over the network to determine Windows 7 readiness.

“It surveys all the computers on your network and tells you which ones are ready and which ones are not,” says Mark Tauschek, a lead research analyst at small-medium enterprise IT research firm Info-Tech Research Group Inc.

2. Determine which of your applications will run under Windows 7

This is a critical step. While Windows 7 supposedly offers improved backward-compatibility compared to previous operating system versions, there will be some programs and device drivers for hardware peripherals that do not work or do not work properly. You need to know before you begin a migration.

Microsoft again provides tools for both small businesses and enterprises. But any size company can use either tool, notes Sandrine Skinner, a senior director in Microsoft’s Windows client group.

If you have relatively few applications and devices to worry about, and few PCs, consult the Windows 7 Compatibility Center, an online database of products and applications that have been tested and certified to work under Windows 7. It’s updated in real time — as new products are certified, they appear immediately.

If your product does not appear, it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work. Custom-built programs — and many small firms build their businesses around custom applications developed for them by consultants and value added resellers — will never appear, for example. A product’s absence from the list might also mean the testing and certification have simply not been completed yet.

And if your product really doesn’t work under Windows 7, the new operating system does provide a “safety net,” Skinner notes. Windows XP Mode will allow you to run older applications that don’t work properly under Windows 7. Note, however, that XP mode requires use of virtualization technology — freely available from Microsoft — which only works on PCs built in the last couple of years.

If you have many computers and applications, and especially if you don’t know all the applications and devices your employees use, you could download and run the Windows 7 Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.5. Like the MAP tool, it works over the network, probing computers and detecting applications and devices. It then compiles a list and cross-references them against the database of products certified for use under Windows 7.

“That is a good first step,” Tauschek says of this kind of application review. “But you will want to also test all your applications pretty thoroughly before you migrate — just to make absolutely sure there are no surprises.”

In particular, he says, test any browser-based program. Windows 7 only supports Internet Explorer 8, which may cause problems with some Web-based applications.

3. Decide which version of Windows 7 is right for you

Windows 7 comes in a few different flavors. It’s available in versions that use 32-bit processing or 64-bit technology. And it’s available in Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise editions, each priced differently. You should establish at the outset which you’ll use and, if possible, go with one choice across all your computers.

“You probably don’t want to mix and match,” Tauschek says. “If you did, even in smaller enterprises, it would almost be like having to support two different operating systems.”

The processing architecture — 32-bit versus 64-bit — is a decision that will be determined partly by the hardware you’re using. Most PCs built in the last year and a half to two years can support 64-bit processing. Computers older than two years, generally cannot.

The other consideration is that the 64-bit architecture will not support older 16-bit applications developed under earlier versions of Windows. If you have such applications — ask your IT consultant or trusted advisor if you don’t know — and intend to continue using them, you will have to go with 32-bit Windows.

Decide which edition — Premium, Professional, Ultimate, Enterprise — based on the features you think you’ll need, and your budget. To help you make that decision, you can use Microsoft’s handy Win 7 feature-comparison chart.

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