Windows 7: (Probably) My Future User Platform

Date November 26, 2009

Ugh. Nothing screams "lots of time" like designing and testing a new user platform.

We're humans. We dig familiarity. We like knowing where things live in our interfaces and we despise people screwing with us. It can take a long time to live down something so small as moving someone's desktop icons (if you live at all!). How much complaining did you hear about Office 2007 and the new "ribbon" interface? Right, now imagine what it's going to be like when the entire OS gets ribbonated.

To be fair, almost all of the reviews of Windows 7 talk about how much better it is than Vista. And lets be honest, I know I'm not the only admin out there who steadfastly refused to allow Windows Vista on my network. I use it on my laptop at home, and it's rubbish. I have to force the power off at least a few times a week, and I had the misfortune to dual boot Ubuntu with a wubi installation...which means that whenever Vista shuts down uncleanly (read: almost always), I can't boot because the filesystem is marked as being in use, unless I force it with mount or fsck, and that just gives me an uh-oh feeling. Wait, I'm digressing.

Back on topic, I know that I'm eventually going to have to move my users away from Windows XP. It's growing a bit long in the tooth, and eventually Microsoft is going to stop selling licenses and actually mean it. Sure, they've said it a few times, and even actually done it, but the sheer abject horror of users using Windows Vista caused people to throw tantrums, riot, and set fire to Redmond. Alright, maybe not those last two, but only because Microsoft backed down and continued doling out the XP licenses. Heck, 7 is for sale in the stores right now and I just bought a new XP license for a netbook I purchased in a woot off. I honestly don't know when they say they'll stop selling it, but it will happen eventually.

Personally, I'm hoping that I can hold off and continue picking up XP SP3 licenses until the first service pack is released for 7. I have no scientific reason for this, but previous incarnations of Windows have led me to believe that this is the way of least grief. Everyone screws up, and the initial release of anything is always bug filled. I figure let the settlers take the arrows and hang in the rear with the gear, or in this case, the nearly antiquated software.

I'm curious about what your user desktops are running (and are going to run). Anyone here using this opportunity to migrate people to another platform entirely? I went to an Apple Tech Conference in NYC a couple of months ago and I was highly impressed with the Snow Leopard integration with Active Directory. It was a direct response to the increased market share that Apple computers have found lately, and it seems like the additional features make it a viable candidate for enterprise membership.

So what do you use? What are you going to use? Do you have plans, or do you just pick up whatever the vendors are offering?

  • http://www.artisancomputer.com Zack

    Seriously consider the Apple route, or doing terminal services (or both). There are huge advantages to deployment and maintenance of both those routes.

    Apple's directory services is straightforward and works great with AD, OD, and straight LDAP implementations. For application level management you may have to either do a dual directory bind, do schema extensions on the existing directory, or apply to the changes to the local directory on each workstation.

    I'm not sure what your userbase and application loadout looks like - that would be the deciding factor.

  • chewy_fruit_loop

    apparently our AD has 37k entries in it and only 40% of these have been logged in since they where added.... so the guys who run that are doing a clean up and a rethink of how machines are added into the domain before we can roll out win 7 to none new machines (all new boxes will be bought with it in 64 bit mode).

    the only thing i know is that i'm being asked for win 7 vms, and vSphere is being coerced into thinking they're vista.

    once we get a green light to put 7 on the existing xp machines....guess which poor bugger gets to do the donkey work....i can almost 100% guarantee that the people paid to be a sysadmin won't it will be left to those of us who do it because we're needed to be it.

    fyi...i'm sysadmin because i was the best at the job when our 3 real guys quit nearly 2 years ago...gahhh

  • http://www.kamilkisiel.net Kamil Kisiel

    Our entire company runs Apple on the desktop. We have ~25 users now. The back-end is around 120 Linux machines. We have a total of 4 Windows machines in our organization: 3 virtual machines for people who work with financial stuff in Quickbooks (no OSX version for Canada... damn you Intuit!) and one for the Quickbooks server and office door entry/security software.

    Everyone seems happy with OSX at our company, even those who never used it before they started. I find it a lot easier to manage than Windows, and it's quite a bit cheaper license-wise. It's great that it has an X server built in since it lets us run all the scientific apps from the cluster without additional software. Another bonus is most open source software that runs on Linux is pretty trivial to get running on OSX as well.

  • http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com Matt Simmons

    @Zach & Kamil

    I've got around 20 users. Around half run OSX right now. Essentially, every developer has a Mac to write code on. Our client services people run Windows because of their relative comfort level and the convenience when it comes to dealing with various client formats. My junior admin and I run Ubuntu with Windows VMs.

    Once all of the mac users upgrade to Snow Leopard, I want to authenticate everyone on Active Directory. Right now, it's only 90% of the Windows machines that are authenticated (and all of the Linux servers that users need to log into).

    @chewy
    wow, that's quite a lot of AD entries! As for the Windows 7 stuff, what do you think so far? How has it acted in the VM state?

  • Patrick Cable

    In my experience with MS licensing, there's always a downgrade clause that will allow you to run prior versions. So, technically, you can always get XP SP3 licenses... just, you have to buy as a w7-professional license (That's a wild stab but it seems like that'd be the one.)

    I actually did migrate an entire network from XP to Vista, with decent luck - the office 2007 ribbon was the major UI change that made people want to kill me. But, that was back in my desktop days. I love managing a unix network now :)

    On my own desktop, I use a mac. I've got the ability to do the unix stuff i enjoy, and have a UI that supports commercial apps i need. Best of both worlds IMO. I don't know much about the AD integration, but I do know that snow leopard integrates beautifully with exchange, and for that I am grateful.

  • Chris K.

    win 7 gets my vote in this discussion. in my opinion it's next best thing to linux managed from shell.
    I'm using Win 7 since 1st public beta was released both on my private and office desktops. I remember how I was really impressed by how good the networking was even in the early betas. even now it's my Win 7 desktop that we use to shuffle data to and from NAS devices and/or backups.

    on the user side (I support few companies with 50+ users each): most of them are already used to the Vista interface and ribbons (I was locked in the server room for days when we 1st installed new office on user desktops) so switching to win 7 is not an issue.

    oh and our USP for new customers as it comes to windows 7 is:
    it's like Vista that actually works!!

  • Andrew

    This is probably one of those issues, as Matt's boss, where I piss him off by cackling that this is his problem...

    However, speaking with my Lead Developer hat on, widespread Windows 7 adoption means that fewer and fewer instances of IE6 will be around. And that is a Good Thing (tm).

  • http://www.openxtra.co.uk/blog/ Jack Hughes

    Run Windows 7 on my home laptop and I'm really pleased with it. The only problem I had with it was a screen refresh issue upon first installation but that was cured when it did a driver update when the install was finished. Very impressive...

    One of the developers here at work has also upgraded to W7 and is impressed too. He also put it onto his netbook and loves it.

  • Bob

    We actually just finished a really big migration of our production infrastructure from Netware 6.5/Zenworks/Groupwise8 with Windows XP/Office 2003 workstations to a Server 2008 R2/SCCM/Exchange 2010 backend with Windows 7/Office 2007 and most of our users seem to be really pleased with it overall.

    From an Admin point of view I really love how the new stuff works. Almost everything runs on clustered Hyper-V nodes now apart from 3 Physical DC's - This was a big change for us as most of our old infrastructure was still built on Physical boxes. Live migration and failover are 2 things that really made my job easier.

    Overall Windows 7/Server 2008 has been rock solid and we have not had many problems with the new infrastructure at all. It is an ALL Microsoft solution (apart for some Linux/MySQL databases we still use) and some people might be scared of that idea, I was skeptical at first too coming from a Netware background but after I finished my certification and training and got the chance to be part of the design/implementation process of the new infrastructure I was actually pretty surprised how well all this software works together compared to our older NetWare platform.

    We currently manage around 2300 workstations 1000 mobile workers and 35 servers supporting around 6200 users with 4 fulltime admins and overall managing the whole thing is a breeze compared to what it was about a year ago.

  • John M

    At home I have run the RC of Windows 7 both on hardware and Virtual, and found it works fine in both. I also had minor driver issues that were resolved during an update (a webcam would quit working in the middle of a Skype session...very disconcerting).

    At work we are looking at corporate wide upgrade to Windows 7 in July 2010... And the biggest issue we have is that we run antiquated hardware (relatively speaking), and we in the IT department are not looking forward to that.

    @Andrew: Here, Here! IE 6 has been the bane of our existence, and even the department of US Government that we interface with doesn't use or recommend it.

    @Matt: I understand your position, waiting for the first Service Pack. History has shown us that Microsoft doesn't get it right the first time (Service Packs, Updates, Patch Tuesday...) or the second... And sometimes the third. I wish it weren't so, but being conservative in regards to Microsoft software is almost a standard policy by those who have to resolve user issues.

  • http://twitter.com/jtimberman jtimberman

    Our company standardized on Macs right away. We're all experienced web operations sysadmins and software developers, though.

  • http://saintaardvarkthecarpeted.com/blog Saint Aardvark

    I'm lucky; I work in a (small) scientific department at a university. About half the people want Linux on the desktop (go Penguin!). And our handful of admin staff use Macs.

    The remainder use Windows, but for various reasons I'm not supporting them...yet. And there, yeah, it's XP all over the place. Except for the one 2003 server that I've just picked up.

    which means that whenever Vista shuts down uncleanly (read: almost always), I can’t boot because the filesystem is marked as being in use

    Is that what's happening to my dad's laptop? Damn, I knew wubi was too good to be true.

    Windows Vista caused people to throw tantrums, riot, and set fire to Redmond. Alright, maybe not those last two

    I rioted, but sadly no one noticed.

  • http://jeffhengesbach.blogspot.com/ Jeff Hengesbach

    2010 will be the year of test and tuning for Win7 / Office 2010 at work. We've planned significant time and effort going through current apps, files, deployment, etc to verify functionality for a 2011 roll out. We're starting off by moving 2K3 Domain controllers to 2K8 x64 on the backend in 2010. It will truly be a top to bottom look at everything in order to have it pull of OK in 2011.

    We have a decent population of user hardware due for replacement in 2010 - all specs will be based on Win7 requirements but run XP until roll out.

    I'm largely excited about an Exchange 2010 'upgrade' (there is no in place 'upgrade'). So many improvements and efficiencies to be had. So many new things to learn about!

  • http://thenonapeptide.blogspot.com/ Wesley Nonapeptide

    Pshaw! I never had a problem with Vista. It seems like I'm one of the few, but it worked like a charm for me. The only BSoDs I had were because of faulty Dell hardware. Vista rocked. I've been running 7RC in production (Microsoft Momentum Program, FTW!!) with no problems. I'm now on the retail bits and am going to recommend users/customers upgrade to 7. The Windows backup features alone are worth it. Imaging my road warrior users' laptops while they work on them before going out on a three week speaking tour is super.

    @Patrick Cable: Software Assurance allows downgrade rights to any downstream version. So yes, you could get a new license just to run NT 3.51.

  • http://arsedout.net Ian

    The XP install in my work laptop was running like junk. Probably too many installed and then uninstalled programs junking up the registry. At any rate, I installed Windows 7 Pro and I'm liking it so far. it boots up quick, shuts down quick, and the Lenovo drivers actually work. Just about everything I need seems to work well. Putty, PuttyCM, UltraVNC. A couple of problems I've had, but aren't really Microsoft's problem:

    Cisco IPSec VPN Client. They will not make a 64 bit version. Cisco wants to charge for SSL VPN licenses and this is their way of forcing customers. Shrewnet makes an IPSec VPN that works with Windows 7 and its free, so that's a good workaround.

    Novell ConsoleOne. Novell's workgroup management tool which allows you administer GroupWise and Zenworks 7. Unfortunately, Novell has never come up with a proper management tool for their products and rely on a disjointed tool strategy. To make things worse, Consoleone doesn't probably work with Windows 7...or even vista for that matter.

    Basically, so far, other than bone headed 3rd party vendors, Windows 7 has been fine.

  • http://www.thefactory21.com Jay Gannon

    25 users here on Apple Exclusively, Just cant beat it for ease of administration and user satisfaction, we are also distributed over 3 continents with all users working off a DMZ facing server for authentication and intranet through a Juniper VPN. also all of our users are iPhone equipped with VPN access.

  • http://adminmas.blogspot.com/ MAS

    Will, We still using XP which is more comfortable to users now, No future plans at the moment to move to 7 but office 2007 is on the way this week.

    Training has been lunched to users.
    and I am practicing Kung-Fu :), preparing for fights.

    I thing one of the reasons that holding us is our scale (5000 workstations) not like "chewy_fruit_loop" but still a big scale need to be planned very well.

  • http://ravenousinc.blogspot.com/ Sam Rhys

    I'm dealing with the same issue of XP's death. I'm actually seriously considering replacing XP with Kubuntu 9.10 and Landscape instead of Active Directory. We are a financial company, but with a single .NET app that is slowly getting ported to a Web portal. My biggest concerns are with office document compatibility. Go-OO has Novell's patchset, and hopefully that will save me.