When you deploy Windows Vista, which of your applications and hardware devices will survive the upgrade? Before you spend a lot of time and money answering that question, check out the free downloadable tools from Microsoft you can use to help your Vista upgrade go smoothly. You can use Microsoft's new Solution Accelerator for Business Desktop Deployment 2007 (BDD) to download tools that help you determine which of your existing computers can be upgraded to Vista and which cannot. The Windows Vista Hardware Assessment (WVHA) tool gathers hardware and software inventory from your entire network. Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor 2.0 (WVUA) reports hardware and software inventory from a single computer. And the Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0 (ACT) helps troubleshoot applications that don't run properly in Vista.

Let's look at how to install and run these tools. I zero in on creating an inventory, analyzing reports, and the importance of testing your applications on Vista. For a quick reference, see the sidebar "Steps for Preparing for Vista Deployment".

Installing BDD
Installing BDD requires Microsoft Management Console (MMC) 3.0, which ships with Vista. So, if you're installing BDD on Windows XP SP2, first download and install the MMC 3.0 update from Microsoft (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/907265). Then download BDD (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads). WVUA is a separate download, also available from the Microsoft download center. You must ensure that the version of BDD and its tools match: If you're using the beta version of BDD, you must have the beta version of the tools; if you're using the RTM version of BDD, you need the RTM version of the tools.

Once you have BDD installed, add the components you'll use for the planning phase of your deployment project. Open the Deployment Workbench from Start, All Programs, BDD 2007. Then expand Information Center in the tree pane, as Figure 1, shows. You'll highlight Windows Vista Hardware Assessment in the Components pane and click the Download button that appears in the Details pane. Perform the same steps for the ACT. After the toolsets are downloaded, they will appear in a list in the Downloaded section of the Components pane.

WVHA scans and inventories your networked computers by using Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) calls, so no agents are required. The inventoried data is stored in a Microsoft SQL Server database. If you don't have SQL Server, the WVHA setup wizard will prompt you to download and install SQL Server 2005 Express Edition from Microsoft; it'll work just fine. The reports will be created using either Microsoft Office Word 2007 and Microsoft Office Excel 2007 or Word 2003 SP2 and Excel 2003 SP2. (If you don't already have Microsoft Office 2007, you might want to go to http://us20.trymicrosoftoffice.com/default.aspx and download the free 60-day trial version.)

You need a local user account that has administrator privileges for the computers you want to scan and inventory, and the file and printer sharing service (found in your NIC properties) must be enabled. WVHA 2.0 can scan and inventory up to 25,000 computers. The supported desktop OSs WVHA can scan are Vista, XP SP2, and Windows 2000 Professional. The supported server OSs are Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows 2003, and Windows 2000 Server.

To install WVHA, select it in the Downloaded section of the Components pane and click the Browse button to display the setup program. Double-clicking the setup program launches the WVHA setup wizard. Choose where you want to install WVHA, and you're finished.

Running WVHA
Open WVHA and launch its wizard by clicking Start, All Programs, Windows Vista Hardware Assessment. The wizard prompts you for a SQL Server database in which to store the inventory data. You can either create a new database, as shown in Figure 2, or use an existing one. If you'd like to add the information to an existing database, select Use an existing database. Click Next. The wizard then lets you choose to collect information from computers in your environment, generate inventory and assessment reports, or connect to Microsoft.com to download the most current hardware compatibility information.

Next, WVHA needs to find the computers you've chosen to be scanned and inventoried. Find the computers by selecting from among the following options on the Computer Discovery page:

  • The Use the Windows networking protocols option uses the Computer Browser service to retrieve a list of known workgroups and domains on the local subnet. If you're in a workgroup environment with more than one subnet or a Windows NT 4.0 domain, you'll need to run WVHA on each subnet.
  • The Use Active Directory Domain Services option sends an LDAP query to a domain controller to retrieve a list of computer objects from Active Directory (AD).
  • The Import computer names from a file option lets you create a text file containing the names of the computers that you want to scan.
  • The Manually enter computer names and credentials option lets you manually enter the name of each computer that you want WVHA to scan and the credentials for a local administrator account for that computer.

For testing purposes, or if I have only a few computers to scan, I use the third or fourth option.

The options you choose on the Computer Discovery page determine the subsequent pages you see. For example, when you select the Windows networking protocols option, the next page is the Windows Networking Protocols page. Your workgroups and domains should be listed on this page. If the list is empty, ensure that the Computer Browser service is running on the computer on which you're running WVHA.

When you choose Active Directory Domain Services, the Active Directory Inventory page is displayed and lets you specify the DNS domain name and credentials for an account that has read access to retrieve a list of AD objects. Usernames and passwords entered in the WVHA tool are not stored locally; they're encrypted and stored in RAM, so you need to re-enter the credentials every time you run WVHA.

After you authenticate to AD, the Active Directory Inventory Options page appears. On this page you can choose to find all computers in all domains or specific computers from a particular domain, organizational unit (OU), or container.

To scan for software and hardware inventory, WVHA needs an account that has local administrator privileges on all computers. You can specify as many accounts as you need on the Inventory Accounts page. You can specify one administrative account for all the computers in a specific domain or OU, or you can manually type each computer name with a different set of local administrative credentials.

The Summary of Actions to be Performed page lists the selections you've configured in the wizard. Before you click Start to begin the scan, be sure the machines you want to scan are connected to the network and powered on. When the scan completes, the Your Report is Ready page is displayed. From this page you can choose to rerun WVHA, open the reports folder (more on reports later), or view a detailed summary of the wizard's operation. The summary of wizard operations is great for troubleshooting purposes; each step of the WVHA process generates a completion code that indicates whether the process succeeded or failed.

The WVHA Reports
WVHA generates a full report and a summary and stores them in the My Documents\WVHA\ Reports\database name folder of the user who ran WVHA. For example, if I do an inventory and store it in database named VHA, the reports are stored in My Documents\WVHA\ Reports\VHA. The report names also inherit the name of the database—for example, VHA Report 20070704 110402.xlsx and VHA Summary 20070704 110410.docx.

The full report in the Excel workbook contains many worksheets and was designed for systems administrators. The information you'll see in this report includes WMI status (running or not), IP information, service pack levels, hardware and software inventory, the current version of Office and whether it can be upgraded to Office 2007, and whether the computer is upgradeable to Vista. If it isn't, you'll see a list of tasks to perform in order to make it upgradeable.

The summary report is a Word document designed for management. The management report comes complete with beautiful pie charts and tables identifying the number of computers that are capable of upgrading to Vista, as well as the number that are not upgradeable and why. Although the reports contain a plethora of information, you won't find information on whether your computers are capable of running BitLocker Drive Encryption or Aero Glass.

WVUA
To open the WVUA, click Start, All Programs, Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor. Click Start Scan, and you're off. The WVUA takes a few minutes to run, so be patient. Once the scan is complete you'll see a high-level report.

In Figure 3, the Upgrade Advisor suggested installing Vista Home Premium on the XP machine I ran it on. Notice at the bottom of the report there is a yellow yield sign under System Requirements. Click the See Details button to get more information, and you'll see a report like the one in Figure 4.

Notice that there are four tabs on this report: System, Devices, Programs, and Task List. In the System tab I found that I needed to free up more hard drive space—in order to upgrade I needed at least 15GB free. The Devices tab listed several devices that WVUA couldn't find information for (such as my VMware NIC—go figure) as well as devices for which WVUA found no problems. I really like the feature that scanned all installed printer drivers for Vista compatibility even though only one printer was connected when I ran WVUA. The Programs tab listed several applications that might have problems after I upgrade to Vista, such as Windows Messenger, some older versions of Adobe software, and WinZip. If you have an application that should be upgraded to the most current version, now is the time to do it.

The Task List tab combines information from all the other tabs to provide a to-do list for before and after the upgrade to Vista. You can choose to print the task list or save the report from the top right corner of the page.

ACT 5.0
The ACT helps you determine which applications will run properly in an upgrade and which might encounter problems. Microsoft has created an ACT community where companies report known upgrade-related problems and fixes (called "mitigations") for applications. To learn more about this community, see http://technet2.microsoft.com/WindowsVista/en/library/3f5669fd-6b8f-4b27-a49c1e865d8f064e1033.mspx.

To install ACT from within BDD, select Application Compatibility Toolkit from the list of downloaded components and click the Browse button in the Detail pane. Then double-click Application Compatibility Toolkit.msi. When the setup wizard is launched, choose the folder in which you want to install ACT, and you're finished.

There are four steps to running ACT: configuration, creating a collection package, deploying the package, and analyzing the data. Before you configure ACT, create and share a folder in which to log the inventory data. Open Application Compatibility Manager (ACM) from Start, All Programs, Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0. The ACT configuration wizard runs the first time you launch ACM. There are two modes: Enterprise mode and View and Manage Reports Only mode. Choose Enterprise mode to create, view, and manage ACT projects and reports. Next, choose your SQL Server or SQL Server Express database. Select the shared folder you created earlier in which to log the inventory data. All computers that will log inventory data need read/write access to the shared folder. Finally, supply a user account and password that will collect that log information in the database. If you choose a specific account, that account must have Log on as a service user rights and read/write access to the shared log folder you created and to the database. If you need to edit these configuration settings later, just select Settings from the Tools menu within ACM.

Create a data collection package from ACM's Collect pane by selecting New from the File menu. Give the package a name, choose the compatibility option, and specify when the monitoring should begin and in which database ACM should store the collected information. To select the type of information to be collected, click Advanced and choose the compatibility evaluators (i.e., agents) you want to deploy. There are compatibility evaluators for collecting information on inventory, Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), User Account Control compatibility, updates (evaluates Windows updates), and Vista (determines if that computer is upgradeable or not).

After you've selected your compatibility evaluators, choose Save and Create Package from the File menu. A self-extracting .exe is created that you can deploy via Group Policy, email, CD-ROM, or a network share. When the collection package is deployed, the compatibility evaluators are installed locally on each computer. The compatibility evaluators run based on the schedule you've set in your collection package.

The last step is to analyze the data that has been collected. Reports identify Vista, XP, IE 7, and Windows Update upgradeability. You can then use the ACT community to view assessments from other companies or create your own assessments.

Developer and Tester Tools
The tools designed for developers to test their applications are the Internet Explorer Compatibility Test (IECT) tool, the Setup Analysis Tool, and the Standard User Analyzer (SUA) tool. These tools are found at Start, All Programs, Microsoft Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0, Developer and Tester Tools.

The IECT identifies potential problems with existing Web sites or Web-based applications before you upgrade them to IE 7. Start IECT and choose Logging Enabled from the Tools menu. Now, open IE and browse to a Web site or launch a Web-based application. In IECT under Issue Description (at the bottom of the screen) is a list of possible problems you can address before upgrading.

The SUA tool monitors the installation of an application and reports problems that need to be addressed before the application will run properly on Vista. Once you have a list of problems, you can apply fixes. These fixes are called "mitigations." Mitigations allow you to resolve some of the issues. SUA requires Microsoft's Application Verifier 3.3 (which is a separate download from Microsoft). Once you've downloaded and installed Application Verifier, open SUA, browse to an application's .exe file, then click the Launch button.

As you can see in Figure 5, there are nine tabs that display information showing you exactly what changed, files that were added or edited, registry keys that were added, and so forth. The App Info tab records the steps of the installer program. Changes that the application made to files, the registry, or .ini files are recorded in the File, Registry, and INI tab, respectively. Using the Privilege tab to find privilege levels can be a huge help.

This completes our quick trip through Microsoft's planning tools. They will make your life much easier by helping you identify and resolve Vista upgrade problems.