Considering virtualised desktop deployment
Windows 7 offers a wild new deployment option: client side virtualisation. You might consider this type of installation because of the flexibility and speed it offers in restoring, securing, and upgrading systems.
One type of client side virtualisation is to install Windows 7 onto a virtualised hard disk (VHD), which is a single file that you can easily copy and deploy anywhere. You can also create incremental VHDs, so you might have a core file that everyone uses and incremental VHDs that have the applications and other configurations for specific departments and even users. The PC boots as normal but opens Windows 7 from the VHD instead of the hard drive's normal file system.
The use of VHDs will slow your PCs by about 3 percent, Microsoft says. It also prevents you from using the Windows Experience Index, as well as BitLocker on the disk where the VHD resides. (You can use BitLocker within the VHD, but not on the disk where the VHD resides.) Note that you need Microsoft's Virtual PC or Virtual Server to create the VHDs, which can run only the 32 bit version of Windows. An MSDN blog details the setup process.
Another virtualisation option is the concept of VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure), where the OS is hosted on a server in the data centre. Users get the same experience as working with Windows 7 directly on their desktop, but IT can manage the desktops locally in the data centre and even provision them to different desktops, such as when a person is visiting another office or working at home. Gartner estimates that in 2014 about 15 percent of the professional market will run Windows this way.
Perhaps more futuristic is the notion of running Windows 7 directly on a hypervisor, which could let you run Windows 7 on computers not designed for the Windows OS, or any specific OS. If the computer can run a supported hypervisor, you can run Windows 7 on that hypervisor. Through management tools, you could quickly deploy an OS to multiple systems. There are already tools on the market that let you manage virtual systems, encrypt the drives (note that BitLocker will not work with VHD-based OSes), and wipe the OS if the system is lost or stolen and booted up.
This hypervisor approach could be very helpful in migrating your users if they are already running in a Windows XP environment with client virtualisation. In that case, they can be moved over to a new OS and their computer's "personality" comes right along with them. Just remember that this is leading-edge stuff, so it's something you're more likely to experiment with than deploy companywide in the near term.
Good-bye nightmare, hello sweet dreams
For many, the transition to Vista was a nightmare best avoided. But the transition to Windows 7 will be a much sweeter sleep.
It will take work to make that migration happen, but by assessing your tools you have, your equipment, and the needs of your organisation going forward, you can do it. And when you're done, the only system running Windows XP is the one in the company museum with a sign that says, "We ran our company on this OS for 10 years before moving over to Windows 7."