Microsoft rolls out XP integration tool

Hoping to speed the integration of Windows XP into corporate environments, Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday will announce updates to a set of tools that helps administrators reduce the time it takes to deploy the operating system by streamlining the process for application compatibility testing.

The newly improved tools, most notably the Windows XP Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) 2.6 and the Line Security Analyzer, are part of the company's New Desktop Deployment Portal Web site. The Web site is also a place where users can access other tools and resources to evaluate and deploy Windows XP and Office XP.

Microsoft will make the Web site-based tools available through a new CD-ROM called the Desktop Deployment Customer Toolkit CD.

"We are turning the crank faster on a series deployment tools as well as pulling together a lot of information users can find in one place on the Web site. The improvements to the Security Analyzer help it check for Exchange 5.5 and Windows Media Code and to pick up on changes made by [Windows XP] Service Pack 1,'' said Rogers Weed, Microsoft's corporate vice president in charge of Windows product management in Redmond, Wash.

Besides helping to properly evaluate and carry out compatibility testing, other improvements to ACT 2.6 are intended to help administrators make adjustments to the applications to make sure they are fully optimized so they can take full advantage of Windows XP, Weed said. Microsoft is hopeful that the compatibility testing it did in preparation of releasing Windows NT code to users will cut down on the testing users will have to do with Windows XP, he added.

"Application compatibility testing is a major step in deployment for a lot of enterprise users. But what some people may not realize is the huge amount of testing we had to do on XP in order to release the NT code base to a broad set of users. That actually generated a lot of benefit for line of business apps and enterprise issues as well," Weed said.

As an attempt to back up that claim, Microsoft officials pointed to a study recently released by BearingPoint, in which Microsoft had evaluated nine companies with more than 800 applications using the new toolkit. Results of the study showed that Windows XP was compatible with about 95 percent of applications already deployed.

Microsoft will not sit still for long before it improves its application compatibility toolkit, according to Weed. He said the "next logical step" in improving the tool will be its ability to inventory an entire network for all existing applications and to pull them into a central database where they can be checked against Microsoft's own central database in Redmond, Wash. , where it collects all applications that company has ever analyzed.

Some analysts agree that the at times-arduous process of testing sometimes thousands of existing Windows applications across an enterprise is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to corporate accounts moving up to a new operating system.

"Application compatibility is one of the primary concerns of enterprises currently evaluating the deployment of Windows XP," said Michael Silver, vice president and research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner. "It is not uncommon for enterprises to have hundreds or even thousands of applications to test for compatibility before deploying a new operating system," he said.

The Desktop Deployment portal Web site makes accessible a number of new tools and other resources designed to help corporate administrators evaluate and deploy both Windows XP Professional and Office XP. It also contains a calculator to measure return on investment, which in turn helps corporate managers determine more specifically the business value of upgrading to Windows XP.

Also available is the System Preparation Tool, which helps to reduce the number of images that are needed for a particular deployment, as well as guides for larger-scale deployments and access to other deployment resources such as TechNet, deployment partners, and the best practices of early adopters.

The tools are available free of charge and can be downloaded from Microsoft's Web site.

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