Free Windows 7 Compatibility Tool for SMBs

Tuesday Apr 27th 2010 by Stuart J. Johnston
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Microsoft and ChangeBase partner to provide solutions that let small and midsized businesses fix compatibility problems with older applications when they migrate to Windows 7.

Microsoft announced an alliance with ChangeBase, an application-compatibility tool vendor, which will let IT professionals and servicing partners for small and medium businesses test and fix issues with programs that balk at running under Windows 7 -- without resorting to Windows 7 Professional's "XP Mode."

One of the advantages of using the tool, dubbed AOK for Small and Midsize Businesses, or AOK4SMB, is that it will automatically test the SMB's applications and, in many cases, also automatically fix the code if necessary, a Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) spokesperson said Monday.

"This fixes the applications so they will run natively on Windows 7," Sandrine Skinner, director of SMB product management for the Windows and Windows Live Division, told InternetNews.com.

The tool, which is downloadable for free until the end of July, is a version of ChangBase's AOK application migration product.

Microsoft officials have pointed out since last year that most existing Windows applications will run without modification on Windows 7. For really troublesome apps, Microsoft added "XP Mode" in Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise editions. However, XP Mode runs those applications in a virtual environment with the administration and oversight that goes with it.

On the other hand, AOK4SMB is designed for businesses that can't afford large IT staffs, and that often instead rely on a handful of IT professionals or servicing contracts with partners.

The tool lets IT pros and SMB servicing partners upload an application's "MSI" file -- short for Microsoft Installer file, a standard format for installing Windows applications. AOK4SMB examines the file and determines if it needs to be changed before it can run smoothly on Windows 7.

According to a written statement from Microsoft, "AOK4SMB creates a report outlining the application compatibility status and resolves any issues automatically."

If the file needs remediation, and if code to fix the problem exists in the tool's database, AOK4SMB will link in the fixes and deliver back the fixed application, ready to install and run in the form of an "MST" file -- a Microsoft Transform file.

The tool rates the applications in terms of a three-color scale. Apps that don't require remediation receive a "green" rating, while those that can be fixed using existing patches are rated as "amber," Skinner said. Those applications for which fixes do not exist, are flagged as "red" and need to be referred to the servicing partner or to the app's vendor, if it's a commercial application.

Microsoft is quick to point out that it has other options for users preparing, or considering, a move to Windows 7.

After July's cutoff, Microsoft will evaluate how many customers used AOK4SMB and whether it is necessary to carry on with the service.

"This is a pilot to see if there really are issues out in the SMB community," Skinner added.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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