BMW and Windows 7: why the car giant is upgrading now

Luxury automaker BMW has been spending nearly all of 2009 testing Windows 7 for its 85,000 Windows XP machines, with plans for full deployment by 2011. The goal: better remote management and a more productive mobile workforce. Here's a look at their IT plan.

German automobile maker BMW is many things: Manufacturer of luxury cars and motorcycles; a brand name famous around the world; a giant corporation with a reputation for efficiency.

You can now add Windows 7 early adopter to that list.

The Munich-based car giant, whose headquarters building is considered an architectural icon in Europe, has 100,000 employees in 250 locations in countries such as South Africa, the United States, Canada and China. Within this vast environment, with users ranging from auto engineers to salespeople, sits 85,000 Windows machines.

BMW has been running Windows XP in its broad client environment since 2001. Happy with XP, the automaker passed on Windows Vista, so its planning for Windows 7 started early, says Bernhard Huber, BMW's Head of IT Workplace Systems.

"We identified a lot of functional and monetary benefits of Windows 7 early on," says Huber, adding that BMW first started testing the Windows 7 beta in the first quarter of this year and has increased the number of pilot users since the RTM (release to manufacturing) version of Windows 7 became available in late July.

"It is expected that 200 to 500 key users will participate in the pilot program until the end of 2009," he says.

Huber mentioned that BMW IT will increase compatibility testing with 5,000 users in a production environment in 2010, after which the rollout of Windows 7 on all machines at BMW will begin in 2011, probably around the time of Windows 7 Service Pack 1.

Better UI, Speed, App Virtualization and Memory

Huber said he sees life getting easier for BMW employees with the redesigned user interface and improved memory management of Windows 7.

The desktop features of the new OS, such as the revamped taskbar, are not usually mentioned as enterprise benefits. However, Huber envisions improved worker productivity with features like thumbnail previews, which allows for quicker switching between applications.

Huber also expects Windows 7 will further promote efficiency via its speedier startup times and improved memory management.

"Windows 7 uses its resources well and starts the applications perceptibly fast," he says. "This will make the upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 easier than it would have been with Vista."

Huber adds that BMW will be using XP Mode, a free virtualization feature for enterprises in Windows 7 that runs older XP-only applications through a Microsoft virtual machine containing a licensed copy of Windows XP SP3.

"With the help of application virtualization features like XP Mode, whatever software we have that is still not compatible with Windows 7 can be further used as we roll out the new OS. We can migrate legacy applications immediately and establish Windows 7 readiness later," he says.

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