End of Days for Windows XP.

Quite a number of people have asked me why I continue to tweet the number of days until Microsoft ends support for one of it’s most successful operating systems ever, Windows XP.  Especially knowing that we seem to be a long way off – today is Friday August 12, 2011 and we are 969 days away from that day, nearly three years as someone recently pointed out.

The truth is that if you have one or two or even ten computers under your responsibility then planning and implementing the deployment plan of a new operating system is not that difficult or time consuming.  However if you have hundreds or thousands of them – numbers not uncommon even among small business IT consultants who service several clients, let alone IT Pros managing desktops for MORGs, LORGs, and Enterprises – then it is something that takes a great degree of forethought and planning.  Issues such as application compatibility, hardware lifecycles, and licenses must be determined, managed, and accounted for. 

How many companies are out there who don’t actually know what they have?  I often ask at my seminars what reasons people have for not having moved to Windows 7 yet, and among the most common (along with cost and application compatibility) is that it is daunting.  The thought of what people need to consider for such a project can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you have, because frankly how can you know where to start?

I used to work for a man named Jacob Haimovici who always said that if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.  It is absolutely true, especially in the world of IT where so often you cannot touch your assets, and the assets you can touch may contain any number of disparate components (hardware). 

The Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit is a free tool from the Microsoft Solution Accelerators team is your first step to having an easier life as an IT Pro.  It is an agentless inventory, assessment, and reporting tool that can securely assess IT environments for various platform migrations—including Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, and even virtualization with Hyper-V.  It inventories your environment including hardware and software, and lets you know what you have.  It creates spreadsheets for you of all of your assets, and lets you know what components are ready for Windows 7, which need mitigations, and which will need upgrading or replacing. 

I ran the MAP tool on the network at Meadowgreen Academy in Mississauga, Ontario before I embarked upon my migration plan, and determined quickly that none of their video cards supported Aero Glass; also a number of the machines did not have enough memory.  These were easily mitigated with a purchase order, and the school administrator was pleased that I discovered all of this up front, and did not wait until it was too late and they had to decide with a proverbial gun to their heads.

The MAP toolkit will also prepare the proposal documents with graphs and charts that speak the language of CxOs, which so many IT Pros cannot do.  Even those who do to a man hate preparing reports and proposals, so the MAP toolkit can be a real godsend.

I was golfing with a client in California a year ago and he told me he had to do a network inventory that afternoon for a new client.  When I asked him what tools he used he told me ‘a pen and paper.’  After I told him about MAP, he told me that before he took me to see the client he needed to run it by the boss.  The boss wanted to see it in action, so I pulled out my netbook (that’s all it takes – fully contained on a 1 GB netbook!), plugged it into their network.  Once they supplied me with the credentials the tool took a few minutes to run and generate the reports.  They were astounded to see the cost savings they could realize by virtualizing their servers!  When we looked at the count of client computers they told me I was off by five… until we determined that the sales team were at an off-site… with their laptops.

Of course, you may need more, and if you do, there are plenty of courses available to help you with your skills, including the highly popular ‘Updating Skills for Windows 7’ by Raymond Comvalius and myself, published by MVP Press.  There are certifications for Windows 7 as well as for Windows deployment, and if you look up the exam 70-681 you will see what the prerequisites are to become an MCTS: Windows 7 Deployment.  If courses aren’t right for you, check out books like Mastering Windows 7 Deployment by Aidan Finn, Darril Gibson and Kenneth van Surksum, which covers everything you will need, and more!

If you are the type to just hack away and figure it out, Microsoft has a whole plethora of free and simple tools that will help you with your deployment plan, including MDT, WDS, WAIK, SCCM, App-V, ACT, and more.  As we say, you can’t spell Deployment without them!  Believe me, once you take the first step, deployment is not as daunting as it might seem now.

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