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Microsoft announced Feb. 20 new tools for easing Windows Vista deployments. The tools come about two-and-a-half months after Microsoft released the new operating system to businesses.

The tools—immediately available—let businesses assess hardware and software compatibility with Vista, better manage product licensing activation, and virtualize older Windows versions during Vista testing, deployment and transition processes.

The tools seem late in coming, given that enterprises had access to Vista through volume licensing since Nov. 30. However, Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said he’s not surprised by the timing.

“I don’t see the November release as anything other than Microsoft saying, ‘See, we released it before the end of the year like we said,’” Cherry said. “Jan. 30 was the real Vista launch.”

Cherry’s date for the real launch would put some of the new tools on target or just a few weeks late. Already, analysts and channel partners held dim views of real-world Vista deployments. In November, a CDW survey of 761 IT managers from businesses and government and educational institutions of all sizes revealed that only 20 percent of respondents would begin Vista deployments within 12 months.

Gartner found that most businesses wouldn’t begin production deployment of Vista until the fourth quarter of 2007. Larger enterprises wouldn’t start until the second quarter of 2008. Presumably, Microsoft would release Longhorn Server and Vista desktop SP1 before early, first deployments.

Microsoft’s first tool, the Windows Vista Hardware Assessment Tool 1.0 Solution Accelerator, is designed for use by channel partners or IT organizations with 5,000 or fewer PCs. The network-based tool assesses the hardware capabilities of connected PCs and ranks them by three criteria:

  • Vista incompatibility
  • Vista Capable—running with limited capabilities, such as the basic user interface
  • Vista Premium Ready—running all capabilities, including the Aero user interface

The tool makes specific hardware recommendations based on the assessment of each client PC, such as upgrading system or graphics memory. The software had been available in beta for a number of months before being released Feb. 20 as a Version 1.

In December, Softchoice warned that 94 percent of PCs in North America would not be capable of running Windows Vista Home Premium—half of PCs, any Vista version.

Find out what else the survey found about how well the average business PC meets Vista requirements.

Forty-one percent of 100 CIOs (75 from the United States and 25 from Europe) by Merrill Lynch in late 2006 said that Vista will drive higher PC configurations. Seventy-two percent of CIOs said system memory is the component most likely to need upgrading, with the average increasing to 1.2GB from 603MB.

On Feb. 20, Microsoft reannounced ACT (Application Compatibility Toolkit) 5.0, which was released on Jan. 30. More than a year ago, Microsoft started releasing versions of ACT with Windows Vista test builds. IT organizations, channel partners and ISVs would use ACT 5.0 to assess and seek to resolve application compatibility problems with Windows Vista.

Microsoft designed ACT 5.0 to analyze some of the possibly most worrisome compatibility problems, such as UAC (User Account Control). In Windows Vista, all users—even administrators—run in standard mode. However, many applications expect elevated user privileges, which could create mild to serious—as in program failure—compatibility problems with Vista. ACT 5.0 also can assess Web site or Web-based application compatibility with Internet Explorer 7.

Next Page: Volume activation tools.

Microsoft also formally announced the release of two tools supporting Volume Activation 2.0: Key Management Service (KMS) for Windows Server 2003 and Windows Volume Activation Management Tool (VAMT). While announced Feb. 20, Microsoft released the tools on Feb. 12 and 18, respectively. The first tool allows organizations to batch activate Vista PCs using an MAK (Multiple Activation Key). Activation takes place with Microsoft.

KMS for Windows Server 2003 fills in an important gap in Microsoft’s Volume Activation 2.0 strategy and overcomes a huge potential barrier to enterprise deployments. With Vista, software is activated or validated on a periodic, ongoing basis, either with Microsoft or a local KMS Server. Until the release of the new KMS tool, local activation could only be done by way of Vista, Shanen Boettcher, Microsoft’s general manager of Windows Client, told For businesses deploying KMS, PCs must reactivate within every 180 days.

Microsoft released the KMS update because “customers requested support for Windows Server 2003,” Boettcher said.

Analysts had predicted that Volume Activation 2.0 would delay enterprise Vista deployments. Boettcher dismissed that because organizations could activate “over the Internet” with Microsoft.

The University of Wisconsin at Madison is an example of an institution struggling to manage Volume Activation 2.0. In a support notice, the school’s Division of Information Technology asserted that “Microsoft has been very late to the table with Volume Activation 2.0. KMS activation is brand new and there has not sufficient time to evaluate it.

“DoIT feels that of the available activation options, MAK activation initially does the best job of easing installation and minimizing administration,” the notice continues. “We do plan to change the primary activation method over to KMS once the tools needed to manage it mature, but we don’t yet have a timetable.”

In addition, “Before we roll [KMS] out for general campus use, we want to thoroughly test it and wait for availability of the Microsoft tools needed to fully manage it,” the notice continues.

The fifth tool, BDD (Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment) 2007, is another reannouncement. Microsoft released the Solution Accelerator about a month ago.

Microsoft’s last Vista deployment tool is Virtual PC 2007, which the company released Feb. 19. Microsoft expects businesses to use Virtual PC 2007, which is freely available, to run virtualized older Windows versions while migrating to Vista. The idea is to maintain application compatibility without delaying Vista deployments.

Businesses subscribing to Software Assurance can run four guest operating system licenses on Windows Vista Enterprise Edition and Virtual PC 2007, Boettcher said.

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