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3 tips for migrating applications to Windows 7

Application compatibility may be the biggest challenge in OS migrations.

By , Network World
June 15, 2011 01:54 PM ET

Network World - Windows 7 migrations are occurring throughout the business world, but not without expense and hassle. One of the most difficult questions is how to let applications designed for Windows XP and earlier versions of Windows make the trip into the next generation of Microsoft-based computing.

Windows powers 96% of corporate PCs, according to a Forrester report released last year. But despite years of experience selling to businesses, Microsoft hasn't eliminated the application compatibility problem.

"Microsoft has clearly done a better job preparing the hardware and software ecosystem for Windows 7 than it did for Windows Vista, but significant work still remains for IT managers responsible for application inventorying, testing, remediation, and packaging," Forrester said.

FULL GUIDE: Windows 7 migration: Tips and tricks

Estimates vary widely, but at least a sizable minority of Windows XP applications will have to be replaced or rewritten to make the upgrade to Windows 7. If your firm is already on Windows Vista, the compatibility problem won't be nearly as bad. But with that in mind, let's go over some best practices for tackling application compatibility during Windows 7 deployments.

1. Make a list.

This one's pretty obvious, but crucial, particularly for large businesses. Glenn Jones, an IT project leader who is heading up a Windows 7 migration for 11,000 users at a global corporation, explains that simply using Windows XP Mode to shoehorn old applications into Windows 7 would have created more complications than it was worth. So, Jones and team used the Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit to analyze more than 16,000 lines of data, representing 650 applications.

"We went through every single application that was on that list to identify if they were valid and still being used," Jones says. "The tool also helped identify some of them that were Windows 7-compatible."

After a lengthy analysis period, Jones and his company's team decided to eliminate many applications, while adding others, eventually settling on 341 applications that would be used with Windows 7. "We found a lot of opportunities to consolidate onto fewer applications," Jones says. "We had a few that still required Internet Explorer 7 but we were able to either give access to them through terminal servers temporarily, or upgrade them to become compatible."

Jones gathered key people at his company together for a four-week session on migration issues, including what the Windows 7 image would contain. But it turned out application compatibility was the most complicated portion. Looking back, Jones says he could have stretched out the whole migration analysis process to at least three months, and spent four weeks alone just on application issues.

2. Choose the right tools.

While Jones used Microsoft's Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT), that's not the only option. Unfortunately, no tool is perfect, and manual work will be required. "The market for application compatibility assessment tools is still young," Gartner analysts Michael Silver and Stephen Kleynhans wrote in a report titled "Application Compatibility Assessment Tools for Windows 7 Migrations," published in December.

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