Early preparation will help move to Vista

Windows Vista Button LogoVista is Microsoft's first major release of Windows client software for over five years. Barrie Charles looks at the changes and the implications for those responsible for IT training.

In the month following the official full release of Windows Vista on 30 January, 20 million licences were issued worldwide, according to Microsoft. Although many of these were probably to home users or PC vendors for pre-loaded software, for most corporates and government bodies it's not a case of whether they will move to Vista, but when.

Ovum predicts that up to 15 per cent of users will have made the transition to Vista by the end of 2007. 'With the announcement of the finite lifetime on XP, it's going to motivate more people to take Vista seriously,' says David Bradshaw, principal analyst at Ovum. 'Our expectation is that towards the end of the year you’re going to see some of the early majority beginning to roll out Vista.'

Vista has some significant improvements, and the long gap since the last desktop release probably helps too, but there are also some major downsides. The operating system is more demanding, so many PCs will need upgrading with more memory and a decent processor, plus a better graphics capability should the organisation want to take advantage of the new Aero user interface.

Then there's the question of whether old applications work with the new system.

'There are also compatibility issues,' says Bradshaw, 'it has been a complete rewrite of the software. There are going to be applications and drivers for different devices that aren't going to work with Vista.'

Vista is based on Windows Server 2003 technology rather than XP, and a key requirement before any major roll-out will be to check out all the applications and devices in use throughout the business. New drivers may need to be obtained and old peripherals could have to be replaced.

Home users will probably opt for Vista as they buy new hardware, but most organisations will probably be more cautious, waiting for the early bugs to be fixed and ensuring that everything works before they take the plunge. Might some companies decide that now's the time to disconnect from Microsoft entirely and opt for Linux on the desktop?

'All the evidence from the volume of training and the interest in Vista suggests that isn't what the market is going to do at the moment,' says Dave Britt, principal technologist at QA-IQ and BCS Trainer of the Year 2006. 'The demand and interest seems more significant than it was with XP; earlier in the life cycle.'

New features

So what is the attraction of the new system?

The most visible new feature in Vista is the 3D Aero user interface, which, as well as being stylish, promises many user productivity improvements. Thomas Lee, chief architect at Global Knowledge, likes the new interface.

He gave the example that when renaming files only the filename is now highlighted, thereby reducing the risk of changing the file extension. 'There's hundreds of little touches like that which I appreciate,' he says.

It is highly unlikely that an organisation will make the investment just for the sake of a better user interface, but they may do so for improved security. BitLocker allows hard drives to be encrypted - a major boon for protecting the data on laptops, especially for people like Lee who seems to spend much of his time in and out of airports and taxis.

'With that kind of running around, laptop losses are a question of when, not whether,' he says. Some businesses will see the implementation investment as well justified if it prevents the kind of headlines about lost customer data and the £980,000 fine that hit Nationwide earlier in the year.

User access controls (UAC), which introduce more levels of privilege and protection in the system, are another benefit which will reduce support costs. 'Users can do less,' explains Lee, 'therefore there’s less they can mess up.'

IT professionals need to understand BitLocker and UAC, but how to set up user PCs is perhaps the biggest change they'll see. 'I think where they really need help is in deployment,' says Lee. 'The basic deployment method is the same, but every single tool is entirely different to XP.'

Windows Vista 3D Desktop 

Office 2007 was also fully released in January, and when corporates roll out Vista, they will most likely include the new release of Microsoft Office. Again the user interface is changed, with, for example, the 'Ribbon': a set of tabs that organises commands into related activities. In addition there are major improvements in collaboration, communication and business integration using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server.

For developers, the big news is .NET Framework 3.0 and WPF, Windows Presentation Foundation. Although applications written to .NET 2 should work on Vista, programmers need to use WPF and direct calls to a revised Windows application programming interface to take full advantage of the new Vista look and feel.

New skills

Vista and Office 2007 will be the first major change to the desktop interface for many organisations for quite a few years, and some user training will be required. 'We've got out of the practice of helping the users with new interfaces and tools,' says Britt.

This time around, the training solution is likely to be made up of e-learning, lunch and learn seminars or virtual lab sessions rather than sheep-dip courses.

'Training is a big word for what we need to achieve,' says Britt. 'Users really need to know how to do everything they used to do in the new interface; we don't need to tell them every new fantastic feature. We need to smooth the path.'

Roll-outs and bulk user training may be some way off for most, but developer training is a bit more pressing for those who want to ensure their applications run well on Vista. Perhaps most urgent is gaining an understanding of UAC so as to be able to advise users on how to set up their systems correctly for the application, but then comes getting to grips with .NET 3.

Microsoft offers some e-learning modules (see box on page x) but does not offer any corresponding classroom courses for developers at present, although a 'first look' clinic is available and offered by several UK training providers such as Xpertise.

The subject is also covered in more detail by QA-IQ in their own courses and in a dedicated WPF course from July.

However, the bulk of the training demand both now and for the immediate future is for IT professionals, the implementation and support staff. Many are updating their skills, even if the major roll-out is a long way off. 'You can begin to experiment, prepare and evaluate now, and that's where some of the early training is most important,' says Lee.

Dave Britt agrees and believes that organisations have learnt the lessons from insufficient preparation around previous Windows releases. 'In hindsight, a lot of people felt that maybe they'd left it too late and should have started their planning earlier. People are being a little bit more strategic about Vista.'

Microsoft has a full set of official curriculum courses and corresponding certifications available for IT professionals (see below).

Later this year, the replacement for Windows Server 2003 is expected in the Longhorn release, which will throw up a lot of additional training requirements for IT professionals. Those responsible clearly need to look at the whole picture when planning training provision over the next 12 months.

'Vista is one component,' says Alex Keay, Microsoft Learning area sales manager for Western Europe, 'but there is absolute relevance for developers in the .NET framework and with IT Pros the forthcoming Longhorn release as well. Vista is just one piece of the jigsaw.'

Further Information

- Global Knowledge
- Microsoft Certification
- Microsoft Vista training
- Ovum
- Xpertise

Microsoft training

For developers, Microsoft offers a two-hour e-learning module on WPF (Clinic 5135 AE) entitled 'Introduction to Developing with Windows Presentation Foundation and Visual Studio 2005'. This course, together with two other modules on Windows Workflow Foundation and Windows Communications Foundation, are (at the time of writing) available free from the Microsoft web site.

For implementation and support staff, several new certifications and classroom courses are available (as well as various e-learning modules and Microsoft press material). Two new Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist (MCTS) exams can be prepared for as follows:

Deploying and Maintaining Windows Vista Client and 2007 Microsoft Office System Desktops

Course 5105 Deploying Microsoft Windows Vista Business Desktops (2 days)
Course 5058 Deploying Microsoft Office 2007 Professional (2 days)

Windows Vista, Configuration

Course 5115 Installing and Configuring the Windows Vista Operating System (3 days)
Course 5116, Configuring Windows Vista Applications and Tools (2 days)

A new Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) Enterprise Support Technician certification exam for Vista can be prepared for using:

Course 5105, Deploying Microsoft Windows Vista Business Desktops (2 days)
Course 5118, Maintaining and Troubleshooting Windows Vista Computers (3 days)
Course 5119, Supporting Windows Vista Computers with Desktop Images and Application Packages (2 days).

This article first appeared in the spring issue of IT Training.

May 2007