How to Successfully Help Customers Mitigate Application Issues Around Windows 7

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L .N. Balaji is president of VAR 500 solution provider ITC Infotech (USA) Inc., and head of the company’s operations in North America. Here, Balaji shares tips on overcoming some challenges that arise after installing Windows 7 for your customers. Get a jump on the new year by anticipating what might go wrong -- and having a plan in place to remedy the situation.— Jennifer Bosavage, editor

Now that you have convinced your customer to move to Windows 7, and have successfully deployed it, you will encounter some frustrating applications that simply don’t work in Windows 7. That could be because of the Windows 7 security architecture or simply because the application checks for the platform it would run on before it installs, and doesn’t find what it expects.

The key to avoid disappointing your customer with unwelcome surprises is to be aware of the issues that may arise, communicate, set expectations and plan ahead to mitigate them.

Here are some tips to mitigate such issues.

1. Make use of Microsoft’s Jumpstart Program: If the customer is an enterprise customer of Microsoft, make use of the JumpStart program. Some of the key business benefits of the program include packaged assessment, enablement through technical training and pilot remediation of business critical applications. This helps to set expectations beforehand, and the customer is aware of the bumps that may lie ahead. Microsoft funds this program, so the customer gets expert assessment without spending any money. That’s always good news for both you and the customer.

2. Rationalize the application portfolio: Every organization has applications that have been deployed but are very rarely used by end users. As part of deploying Windows 7, talk to the customer and explain the benefits of sun setting the applications that are little used, have duplicate functionality or if newer versions of the application have been deployed elsewhere in the organization. For our customers at ITC Infotech, we have seen that rationalization can reduce the application portfolio by as much as 80 percent. The automatically reduces migration issues.

3. Virtualize applications: It pays to convince the customer to virtualize the applications such that they can either be run from a central server or can be streamed to run in an isolated environment on the desktop itself. For example, for one of our clients, some end users wanted to run an older version of MS Access, while Office 2010 was the standard on the desktop. In order to enable this, MS Access component of Office 2003 was virtualized, allowing users to use legacy applications despite the migration. However, remember that virtualization is not a silver bullet. For example, Internet Explorer 6.0 cannot be truly virtualized due to its dependency on the underlying operating system. It is important to communicate early about the boundaries of your solution.

If the customer is an enterprise customer of Microsoft, ask them to try the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) Jumpstart Program, to get a feel of what virtualization can do for them.

4. Remediate custom applications: Custom applications that use legacy file paths or legacy registry entries are often problematic and need to be remediated. Use of automated tools like Changebase AOK and Flexera’s Admin Studio can dramatically reduce the effort required to verify and remediate applications. Another neat way of removing dependencies on the application is to use the standard packaging techniques to overcome some of the compatibility issues. For example, if the installation executable looks for a particular version of Windows, the packaged MSI can be captured by installing the application on that version of Windows. The resulting MSI can be stripped of any OS specific information resulting in an installation that can work on any version of Windows. Also, file path and registry related remediation can be made in the MSI script itself.

5. Relook at IE 6 dependent applications: Applications that have been written for Internet Explorer 6 may not work in the later versions of the Internet Explorer. Even in this space, tools such as Changebase AOK Browse-It and Flexera’s Admin Studio can perform an assessment of the dependencies. Those tools can perform static analysis as well as crawl through Web pages and provide you with an RAG (Red Amber Green) report. In our experience, those tools detect 90 percent of the issues with IE 6 and hence reduce the effort and the time required to detect issues. However, remember, while these tools make detection of issues faster, there are no short cuts to fixing the issues in most cases. Developers of custom applications and the product teams for off-the-shelf products will have to go through the code to fix these issues. Keep this in mind when you talk to your customer.

6. Look for available plug-ins: An interesting plug-in that we have seen in this space is the UniBrows from Browsium. A browser plug-in, UniBrows can be used to run IE6-dependent Web Apps in IE8 or IE9. The granular rule-based controls in UniBrows allow you to upgrade now and mitigate legacy application issues when it makes sense for your business. We have seen that this plug-in works best for applications with a simple user interface. You can use their free 60-day Evaluation Kit available on their website

If you are a Microsoft Partner, it’s always a good idea to talk to your contact point in Microsoft for some great resources like the Jumpstart program and some sage advice. Work with your enterprise customer in assessing the risks in advance when you deploy Windows 7, and you will survive the challenges around application mitigation.

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