Microsoft has released a set of six free tools for corporate users that are focused on assessment, planning, testing and deployment of Windows Vista.

The tools also include the latest release of Virtual PC 2007, Microsoft's virtualisation software for the desktop, which includes special-use rights for users in Software Assurance maintenance programmes.

The tools are part of an ongoing Microsoft strategy to provide migration tools as early as possible after the release of Vista, which shipped to corporate customers in November. Early migration tools were released with beta versions of Vista in February 2006.

The company said its research showed some customers were spending as much as $1,000 to migrate desktops. Microsoft said its goal was to reduce that cost to less than $100.

The six tools are: BDD (Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment) 2007, ACT (Application Compatibility Toolkit) 5.0, Windows Vista Hardware Assessment 1.0, Microsoft Volume Activation 2.0 Tools, KMS (Key Management Service) for Windows Server 2003 and Virtual PC 2007.

BDD 2007 includes guides and tools to deploy Vista and the Office 2007 family of software on desktops. It includes single-image engineering and deployment capabilities, user-state migration tools, remote deployment tools, and integration with other deployment products, such as System Management Server 2003. It also can be used to integrate some of the other deployment tools.

ACT 5.0 includes a set of tools to determine if current IT applications are compatible with Vista. The tools also help in solving compatibility issues and tracking compatibility information after the application is deployed.

Windows Vista Hardware Assessment 1.0 helps companies discover which of the PCs they already own are best suited for Vista upgrades. The tool has an inventory feature that works over the network and generates reports on each PC.

Microsoft Volume Activation 2.0 Tools and KMS for Windows Server 2003 are part of Microsoft's Software Protection Platform aimed at curbing piracy. VAMT, the Windows Volume Activation Management Tool, helps IT professionals automate and centrally manage volume activation using a Multiple Activation Key. The VAMT tool can be used to activate an entire group of computers all at once. The KMS tools let companies set up internal servers to activate and validate copies of Vista.

Virtual PC 2007 gives corporate users with Software Assurance and Vista Enterprise Edition the right to run four additional copies of Windows operating systems on virtual machines.