If you're considering migrating to Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows 7, then take note, its probably one of the biggest technology migrations you'll experience.

In fact, according to IDC analyst Al Gillen, migrating to Windows 7 "is a once-in-a-decade movement".

"People that move to Windows 7 can expect to be on Windows 7 for a pretty long life cycle, much like we have with XP today. So whatever you do, and whatever decisions you make are decisions you're going to have to live with for a long time."

But many organisations face problems because of insufficient planning. According to a Gartner report, most organisations undergoing Windows migrations "underestimate how long it will take them to [test applications and fix problems], don't build a business case or properly track the benefits of their projects [and] allocate insufficient time for their pilot".

There are probably too many Windows 7 migration issues to list in a single article. But here are five tips to help you on the path to Microsoft's latest operating system.

1. Virtualise applications and user settings

Some Desktop virtualisation vendors claim the technology will ease migration to Windows 7. But this isn't the only type of virtualisation that can make Windows 7 upgrades and future OS migrations easier than they might otherwise be.

Two technologies to consider are application virtualisation and user virtualisation. Nik Gibson, the enterprise desktop practice leader at Forsythe, a technology consulting firm, has worked with many large enterprises on virtualisation projects, and says it's often easier to virtualise applications than desktops. "We see that a lot. It takes longer to virtualise the desktops than the applications," he says. "The desktops are more unique," with various use cases depending on the employee.

Gibson says "virtualise your applications" is the first tip he would give to customers planning a large Windows 7 migration. "And that just makes sense," he says. "If you can decouple your applications from the base operating system, it's going to be easier to migrate that operating system."

Application virtualisation will not only aid the current move to Windows 7, it will also make future upgrades to Windows 8 easier too, IDC's Gillen says.

Application virtualisation isn't exactly new, but has undergone a bit of a marketing makeover in the past few years. What Citrix used to call its Presentation Server product for application streaming is now referred to as XenApp and labelled a 'virtualisation' technology. VMware's ThinApp, based on technology acquired in 2008, is another option in this market.

But application virtualisation won't help move each user's personal data and settings from one OS to another to another. That's where user virtualisation comes in. Software such as VMware's RTO and AppSense's user virtualisation product will take a user's profile, data files and settings, and move them easily from one machine to another, for example from a Windows XP computer to one with Windows 7, Gibson says.

User virtualisation is still maturing, though. Although VMware acquired RTO technology in February, it has not yet integrated the software into its desktop virtualization product.

Microsoft itself offers a User State Migration Tool to ensure that user settings and files survive OS upgrades. AppSense technology is on the market, and can be used for Windows 7 migrations both on physical PCs and in conjunction with virtual deployments. Another user migration toolkit is available from Tranxition, which can also be used for migrations involving either physical or virtual desktops.

NEXT PAGE: Test applications for potential incompatibility

  1. The tips you need to follow
  2. Test applications for potential incompatibility
  3. Get your licensing straight
  4. Plan ahead