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Preparing your applications for a Windows 7 migration

Desktop applications that ran flawlessly in Windows XP or Vista may be defective in Windows 7. Here are some steps you can take to minimize -- and solve -- these problems.

Desktop applications that worked flawlessly in Windows XP -- and even Windows Vista -- may not be so perfect in Windows 7. If you're planning a Windows 7 migration, there are several things you should do to minimize app-related problems.

Take a desktop application inventory
The first step is to take an inventory of your organization's applications. Depending on the size of your enterprise, you can either perform the inventory manually, or you can use an automated inventory collection program.

The Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit is a good -- and free -- option if you're going the automated route. The tool is designed to take an inventory of desktop applications and provide information on each app's compatibility with Windows 7. In addition, the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor can be a useful product in smaller organizations.

If you want to perform the inventory process manually, make sure to locate all of the applications in use. A client of mine thought he had done a thorough job of inventorying and testing applications, but after migrating to Windows 7, he discovered that wasn't the case. He had manually taken inventory by going to each machine and writing down the apps on the Start menu and desktop. This method is insufficient because it's easy to overlook infrastructure-related applications. The best way to perform a manual inventory is to examine the Programs list in the Control Panel.

Verifying application compatibility
After compiling a list of the programs, the next step is to determine which apps will work in Windows 7. In addition to the Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit, you can also check each manufacturer's website for compatibility information or search Web to see what other people have to say about the application in a Windows 7 environment.

Of course, it's always a good idea to test the applications whenever possible.

Choosing an upgrade method
The next step in the process is to choose an upgrade method. If your desktops are currently running Windows Vista, then you may be able to perform an in place upgrade. Here are the supported upgrade paths:

Current Edition of Windows Vista Supported Upgrade to Windows 7
Business Professional, Enterprise, Ultimate
Enterprise Enterprise
Home Basic Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate
Home Premium Home Premium, Ultimate
Ultimate Ultimate

Remember that if you decide to perform an in-place upgrade, you must upgrade to the same architecture. In other words, you can't upgrade a 32-bit version of Windows Vista to a 64-bit version of Windows 7.

If you choose to perform a migration, then all the restrictions go away because that involves installing a clean version of Windows 7. If you plan to perform a migration, you will have to install all of your applications once the Windows installation is complete. Therefore, it's important to verify that you have the installation media and any required product keys before you begin the migration process. I also recommend setting up a test PC and making sure that all of your applications install correctly before you attempt a real migration.

Application incompatibility
Some of your applications likely won't work in Windows 7. In this case, you have the following options:

  • Upgrade -- Purchase a more up-to-date version of the app.
  • Replace -- Find a comparable application that does work in Windows 7.
  • Retire -- If the application is seldom used, you may be able to retire it.
  • Virtualize -- Application virtualization often solves operating system compatibility problems.
  • Trick -- Windows 7 contains several application compatibility features that let you force a program to run, including tricking an app into thinking that it's running on an older version of Windows.
  • Use Remote Desktop -- You may be able to run the application remotely on a Remote Desktop server.

You should consider several application-related issues before migrating to Windows 7, but if you take the right precautions, you will minimize any negative effects.

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Before becoming a freelance technical writer, Brien worked as a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator at some of the nation's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox.

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