Vista desktops to relieve admin pain

Windows Vista is likely to be the biggest transformation to the enterprise desktop since XP's appearance five years ago, but IT managers should find managing large installations much less painful, according to one Microsoft partner.

Corey Hynes, president of Florida-based consultancy HynesITe, told a large gathering of IT professionals at this year's Tech.Ed conference in Sydney yesterday that Windows Vista has a new architecture more suitable for enterprise deployments.

Hynes acknowledged a lot of desktop administrators have "gone through the pain" of managing text files and configuring Windows XP and 2000 desktops, but Vista is "quite a bit different" for large deployments, because Microsoft has reengineered everything it could.

"Vista is a major change in the way the operating system is packaged and installed; it's one 2.5GB file called Install.wim," Hynes said. "That is Vista fully installed and it comes with new tools and technologies based on XML."

Hynes said there was not a lot of knowledge on how to deploy operating system images within large enterprises, but with tools like Business Desktop Deployment (BDD), now it's "almost a product" with "lite" and zero-touch options.

"Most deployments are done with tools like Ghost, which take an image of the disk, whereas a wim file is a file-based image of the disk," Hynes said. "It is a copy of every file on the partition so it is a non-destructive deployment."

The result of a concerted XML-based approach to operating system component management is configuration files like unattend.txt and sysprep.inf have "died" and have been replaced by unattend.xml.

"Every single module of the operating system is an isolated entity in the xml file," Hynes said, adding if an administrator wanted to delete games from an SOE, the image can be edited offline.

When deploying Vista, the product key determines which components get extracted from the image.

For deployment, Windows Deployment Services (WDS) is a replacement for Windows 200x Remote Installation Services and has native support for deploying and capturing wim images, so no longer will administrators have to "blow an image down" to a machine and modify it.

Another management tool is the Windows System Image Manager (SIM), which replaces the old Setup Manager.

SIM shows what is included in the copy of Vista and will validate the XML file which is used for everything.

While Vista has many new tools for deploying and managing the operating system, Hynes said it does ship with an in-depth set of documentation for the new services.

Also during his presentation, Hines gave Microsoft a lot of credit for the work it has done to simplify desktop management, but was also honest about how Vista might annoy some administrators.

He outlined five things about Vista that "make your life miserable":

* Glass - From a business standpoint, "Big friggin deal. Windows is easy enough to break so I don't know why they would want to make it out of glass. It needs compatible video cards which your desktops might not have."

* Disk - Vista is more disk intensive. Older machines have 4200RPM disks and Vista is designed for modern computers. While desktops might meet the specs they may not perform well. A 7200RPM disk is okay.

* Windows Explorer - Finding things like a file menu is sometimes challenging. It's not bad, it's just different. The places where files have lived have changed. I want to see everything in the operating system.

* Administrator account - It is disabled in Vista, and it's not an option. There is a registry hack to log on as an administrator. It is a good thing but all these prompts pop up.

* User account control.

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