The CRN Test Center's Take: Is Windows 7 Worth It?

Our take on that is a resounding yes.

Solution providers may not have to deal with Windows 7 in the here and now, but one thing is certain: XP extended support ends in four years. That means either dealing with deploying Windows 7 when it becomes available next month or gradually swapping out PCs that have reached their end-of-life cycle with new Windows 7 ones, or planning a one-time widespread deployment of Windows 7 sometime in the future.

Getting Windows 7 deployed in an infrastructure is not without its headaches, but doing so is worth the headache. Windows 7 is a substantial operating system improvement over Vista, plus Windows 7 is an integral part of an enhanced Windows ecosystem; major improvements and new features in Server 2008 R2, Exchange 2010 and Office 2010 are all designed to take advantage of the feature set in Windows 7.

Windows 7 is also a critical component of the powerful virtualization platform Microsoft has engineered with Hyper-V on Server 2008 R2 and with System Center Virtual Machine Manager. Windows 7 in tandem with Hyper-V provides application and desktop streaming capabilities that formerly were only possible using third-party software.

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On its own, Windows 7 offers lots of benefits. It is looking to be Microsoft's most streamlined, best-performing and securest operating system yet.

Smaller businesses can benefit from migrating to Windows 7 right away. Smaller networks translate into a smaller number of client machines and applications, so the testing window time frame becomes reduced. Another reason is that smaller customers may not have many customized applications that could be incompatible with Windows 7. From our extensive reviews in the CRN Test Center, Windows 7 has little to no issues with drivers and major software compatibility. Hardware and software vendors have really focused their efforts on making their products Windows 7-friendly. Products designed for Windows 7 take advantage of enhancements in Windows 7, so smaller organizations can actually benefit by upgrading rather than sticking with XP because of hardened security (like enhanced BitLocker and the 64-bit install option) and improved performance.

If upgrading from Vista, Microsoft has made available the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, a handy tool that will scan a Vista machine and list any known Windows 7 compatibility issues with hardware and software. This is a nice utility because it lets IT resolve any compatibility issues before a Windows 7 rollout. A word of caution, however: When reviewers in the CRN Test Center tested the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor beta on an XP machine, it was a no-go. The utility could not do the compatibility analysis per the error message and then closed the Upgrade Advisor.

Enterprises can also benefit from the vast improvements Windows 7 has made over Vista and yes, XP. For instance, 64-bit Office 2010 running on 64-bit Windows 7 gives Office applications unparalleled performance and the ability to create documents such as really complex Excel spreadsheets. Larger businesses can benefit from AppLocker, which VARs can use to granularly perform software controls at the group policy level. Windows 7's Power Shell Integrated Scripting Environment gives solution providers a powerful way to perform tasks and create scripts for an entire domain or forest.

Enterprises, of course, will need a more extensive testing period in particular to ensure there are no issues with custom applications or legacy systems. Windows 7 is coming. XP is being phased out. It's as simple as that. Now is the time to assess and plan your strategy around that fact.

An XP To Windows 7 Upgrade Workaround

Some XP users have been posting "down-and- dirty" ways to upgrade Windows 7 from XP. One of the most plausible ways was posted on Microsoft's TechNet. Be advised, Microsoft in no way supports this option as an upgrade, but it is a way to get Windows 7 up and running without losing XP files and settings. Here is an overview of the solution posted on TechNet:

From the Windows 7 CD/DVD navigate to the following directory: \support\ migwiz.

Run migsetup.exe to launch the Windows Easy Transfer utility.

Following the wizard prompts, select the device to be used for transferring: Easy Transfer cable (Windows compatible, special USB cable), network or external drive.

At the next prompt, select "This is my old computer."

Select all files you want to transfer over to Windows 7.

Save those files to an external or USB flash drive.

Run setup.exe from the Windows 7 CD/ DVD.

Follow the wizard prompts as normal until you get to the point where you are asked where to install Windows. Select "Custom" and install in the same partition as XP. Finish the install as normal.

From Windows 7 click on Start-->All Programs-->Accessories-->System Tools-->Windows Easy Transfer.

Click Next and select the external or USB drive with the saved data to be transferred. Click "This is my new computer" and browse to the location containing the saved data.

Click "Transfer" to transfer XP data to new Windows 7 install

Of course, the above scenario will probably require some program re-installs, so check beforehand to ensure you have all original program installation files and license keys.

Don't Ignore These Five Windows 7 Features

Windows 7 may be so feature-rich that there is danger of underutilizing its full functionality. This may be particularly true in the case of corporate IT, where cost-saving staff reductions and the need to routinely squelch technology-related fires means less time for IT pros to completely familiarize themselves with each and every new facet of the latest operating system. Therefore, we present five Windows 7 features that IT pros should hone in on:

BitLocker and BitLocker To Go

What Is It: BitLocker is a full drive encryption feature in Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate. It is reinforced AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) as it combines AES with additional encryption security.

Why You Need It: BitLocker can add an extra layer of security in a network on the client side, which can sometimes be lacking. It can help block hackers from accessing system and data files.


What Is It: AppLocker is a feature within Group Policy and Local Security Policy. It allows administrators to lock access to specific applications, installer files and scripts.

Why You Need It: Less time-consuming and allows for better control than software restriction policies in previous version of Windows.

Windows PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment

What Is It: The Windows PowerShell ISE is the host application to PowerShell. In it, administrators can run commands and write, test and debug scripts in this graphical user interface.

Why You Need It: Performing script-based tasks and commands allows you much more control and flexibility over a Windows infrastructure than the usual GUI-based administration tools like Server Manager, for example.


What Is It: DirectAccess is like VPN in that it provides remote connectivity to the corporate network for Windows 7 clients, only it's promising to be a far superior solution than VPN.

Why You Need It: Remote access has become a standard "must-have" for employees. Direct Access is in-the-box remote connectivity with Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7, so if both are already deployed in an organization, why spend money on a third-party remote access solution? Best reason of all: Since remote users do not have to log into a VPN to connect to the office, they can always be centrally monitored and managed by IT.


What Is It: BranchCache is a feature of Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 that allows for the local caching of data on Windows 7 clients at branch offices from corporate Web and file servers.

Why You Need It: This feature reduces the amount of bandwidth needed to transmit data to branch offices; a potential cost-saver that reduces the amount of time branch office users need to retrieve data from corporate networks.