With the release of Windows 7, enterprises need to at least begin looking at deploying Microsoft's new operating system in their environments. Whether you are excited about Windows 7 or hate the fact that XP will not be around forever, the fact is that you will probably be rolling out Microsoft's next-generation operating system to your Windows users at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Slideshow: See screenshots of the tools listed in this post.

Short of a one-by-one build or OEM pre-build (still painful), any tools to help you automate the deployment of Windows 7 would certainly be welcomed. If you haven't done an enterprise-wide cutover to a new Windows environment since XP, then you will be pleased to learn that many such a tool is now available.

While there is plenty of third party software to get the job done, they come with a premium attached. But we all know that Microsoft wants you to buy Windows 7. And so Redmond has created a set of free tools for enterprise deployment. Most of these tools are not brand-spanking new (most were around for Vista) but they have all been improved for a Windows 7 deployment. I found all of them to be surprisingly easy to use and efficient.

Some of these tools are used for preparing an environment for the new operating system. Others are used to actually roll it out. Some of the tools listed here are actually part of a broader tool set (for example, USMT is part of WAIK), however they are worth calling out as individual tools because of how helpful they are. To quickly thumb through screen shots of all the tools listed here, check out the related slideshow.

Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT)

Let's begin with the applications. We all know that just because an application or device worked under one version of Windows, that doesn't mean it will work under the new version as well. This tool allows an administrator to determine the compatibility of applications that are currently running under Windows XP or Vista. The tool however does not just allow you to determine whether or not an app is compatible with Windows 7, it helps you to determine what the possible outcome would be of running an app that is not compatible.

The latest version of this tool also features:
• Ability to audit your application data and to selectively synchronize your applications with Microsoft.
• Updated documentation for suggested compatibility fixes.
• Ability to customize your Quick Reports view.
• Ability to label your individual data-collection packages.

ACT collects data and then provides a simple way to analyze that data and create a report for a system. The report will show you which applications or devices have issues and allow you to set priorities and assign categories for that device or application.

Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit (MAP)

Now that we have the applications taken care of we need to move on to the system itself. Device drivers have always been a sore spot for Windows migrations so the MAP tool is used to assess hardware and device compatability for computers on your network. MAP is an agentless tool that doesn’t just provide a quick once over. It generates detailed readiness reports and visual charts to help you pinpoint which systems are ready to run Windows 7, which systems are not and why.

Along with the analysis, it provides a device compatibility summary for ensuring that the proper device drivers are available before the migration. You can use the task pane to generate a report ported into Excel. This report will provide even greater detail about device and system compatibility issues. MAP also provides a reference library, which is a series of links to documentation and additional resources for deploying Windows 7.

User State Migration Tool (USMT)

If you were involved in a corporate XP-to-Vista upgrade, you may be familiar with Windows Easy transfer. In the simplest terms, USMT is a command-line equivalent of this tool and is meant primarily for large-scale user state deployments. This scriptable command-line tool is pretty easy to use and very efficient. Create a location for the migration file and then use the ‘scanstate’ command to copy the user state information. Once Windows 7 is installed to the system, simply use the ‘loadstate’ command to move the user state over to the new operating system. Even in my small test environment of just eight users, I found this to be quicker and more automated than the Windows Easy Transfer tool.

Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK)

While this tool is called the Automated Installation Kit, it does much more than just help to automate installation of Windows 7. This tool can be used to configure answer files, capture Windows images and then configure or modify those images using DISM (see my next entry for an explanation of DISM).

This tool also incorporates USMT, discussed in the entry above. Aside from creating,an automated environment for installing Windows 7 (as if that weren't enough!), this tool also provides tools for activating and managing volume licenses. So you can think of WAIK as the tool that brings it all together. With it, you can capture or create the image, modify the answer file and installation files, migrate the user state and then activate the Windows 7 installation.

Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM)

This is the second command-line tool in the bunch and it, too, is part of the WAIK. This tool is the culmination of three others that were used in Windows Vista (Package Manager, PEimg and Intlcfg). But its not just a collection of the older tools. Enhancements have been made for Windows 7 deployments.

Some of those improvements include:

  • Add, remove, and enumerate packages and drivers.
  • Enable or disable Windows features.
  • Upgrade a Windows image to a different edition.
  • Prepare a Windows PE image.
  • Service all platforms (32-bit, 64-bit, and Itanium), as well as servicing a 32-bit image from a 64-bit host or a 64-bit image from a 32-bit host.

DISM is used to manage the data or information in the Windows image, such as enumerating the components, updates, drivers, or applications contained in an image. It is also used to service the image by allowing you to add or remove drivers, enable or disable Windows features, and upgrade to a Windows higher edition.

Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT)

Now that we have looked at tools that help assess apps and devices, tools that prepare and configure images, systems and user profiles, the next thing we need is a set of tools for managing the actual deployment of Windows 7. MDT provides documentation, links, component downloads, and the ability to create deployment shares, import an operating system from source files, WIM image or WDS image. You can import service pack files and drivers and even add applications to be deployed from either source files or a network share.

This tools uses task sequences to configure the installation from the initialization step through the post installation steps and state restoration. Here you can set things like applying the network settings for the machine, install the application packages you imported, enable BitLocker and then some. All these tasks take place virtually hands off (zero touch installations can be yours if you happen to use System Center Configuration Manager 2007). The MDT makes deploying Windows 7 an easy, and dare I say, enjoyable process for the enterprise administrator.

Windows Deployment Services (WDS)

Another great tool for deploying Windows 7 is WDS. Introduced in Windows 2008, WDS is actually an update to the RIS server role of Windows Server 2003. WDS allows you to create an image of the Windows 7 installation files and then to centrally locate those files on the network. WDS supports multicast deployments, creating custom images and unattended installations. Wizards make setting up images and deploying simple. There are pre-requisites to consider for clients that will attach to WDS and install an image or OS, but overall this is an easy, straightforward way to deploy Windows 7 in your organization.

A final word of advice

I have found throughout my career (which has been mostly in the SMB market) that many IT shops will ignore these tools because they seem to be geared towards enterprise deployments. While that may be true, most of the tools in this list are still if e interest to an SMB who wants a reliable, easy and efficient transition from Windows XP or Vista to Windows 7. Plus, as we pointed out before, these tools are free. I hope they help make your world….A Better Windows World!