TechNet Podcast on Windows 7 Application Compatibility

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Wayne Applehans to record a session for our TechNet IT Managers “The Big Show” – it’s posted here:

Here is the transcript, if you prefer to read rather than to listen:

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John Baker: Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening everyone. This is John Baker for TechNet Radio. Today’s show is Wayne Applehans. He is the director of technical audience marketing at Microsoft, and he is going to be talking to Chris Jackson, who is the technical lead for the Windows Application Experience SWAT Team. And they are going to be talking about application compatibility in Windows 7.

Wayne Applehans: Hello everyone, my name is Wayne Applehans, director of technical audience marketing at Microsoft and I want to welcome you to our April edition of the Microsoft Platform Dialogue series. This is our monthly interview. We open up and talk to the experts, both inside and outside of Microsoft about the latest trends impacting IT, and the resources and guidance available to help you plan and deploy the latest Microsoft technologies.

A much anticipated topic of Windows 7 is the center of our discussion today, and joining us from Microsoft is Chris Jackson. Hey Chris, how are you doing?

Chris Jackson: I’m doing great, how are you doing?

Wayne: Great Chris. So we understand that you are the Windows 7 app compat guy. Can you give us a little bit more information about your experience? What do you do at Microsoft?

Chris: Sure. Well I am the technical lead for the Windows Application Experience SWAT Team. We’re a worldwide team that is the highest level of escalation for application compatibility issues in the enterprise, so we could go onsite to customers around the world and figure out, you know, what is it that is being a blocker in terms of application compatibility to both fix that specific problem and also bring in the organizational learning of how can we avoid other people having those same problems and share that knowledge.

Wayne: Awesome. Well we appreciate your time today helping us to break down the topic of application compatibility with Windows 7, and I know that it’s a topic that’s at the top of the mind for a lot of IT managers and IT professionals thinking about jump starting their planning process. So let’s go ahead and jump in. There’s quite a bit of buzz in the press today and in the blogosphere about Windows 7. In fact, I was in Hanover recently at the CeBit Conference and it was standing room only for the Win 7 demos. So Chris, let’s start with the big perception that’s out there today about Windows 7 really being Vista SP3, or what did you refer to it earlier today when we were talking?

Chris: What I have been referring to in my own side conversations is “The Great Vista Do Over”. Our opportunity to fix all of the things we didn’t do right on Windows Vista.

Wayne: So do you think the confidence level should actually be higher for Windows 7? What’s changed in it, as IT pros think about their migration path from XP, or if they’re on Vista, what’s changed, what’s going to help them make that leap in terms of migration and deployment?

Chris: Well I think there are several things that have changed. First of all, the passage of time itself has helped matters. When Vista first came out, we simply broke so many things, and you couldn’t buy a version that worked, that we blocked a lot of people from being able to get there at all, it was simply impossible. The ecosystem has had time to catch up to that, and thereby now you actually have an option to go buy something that works, and that’s pretty important.

Wayne: I’ve heard that the goal is for everything that worked on Windows Vista to continue working on Windows 7, which is probably somewhat unrealistic, and I’m just wondering, we know some apps are going to fail, can you give us some examples of the types of things that may regress in this process?

Chris: Sure, and you are exactly right. I mean, anytime you change code at all you have the potential for a compatibility problem because you never know what kind of things people are depending upon. So what I normally do is give two examples of software that didn’t work on certain builds of Windows 7, one of them which we addressed and another that we didn’t address directly to the operating system, we used a different technology, because I think those examples are going to showcase the decisions that we’ll make.

Let me give you an example of one that we fixed directly. If you run Microsoft Money, and I know it’s the 2008 version, and also I believe the 2007 and 2006 version, if you’ve got one of the previous released versions, if you run that on the data build, the seven thousand build, you’ll notice it pops up an error. And if you debug the error activity, which typically takes about a day or two by some of our top debuggers to figure this one out, what we eventually discovered was that the bug itself is one in the Internet Explorer controls that are being hosted by Money. And one of the buffers that it is using to pass a string around depends on you being able to overrun that buffer by two bytes, and that’s a bug that’s been in Windows since Windows 95. Someone fixed the bug and surfaced the fact that Money, and probably a lot of other apps, depend on that behavior, they expect the bug to be there. So what we had to do in the operating system to fix that is put the bug back in. So we just over allocate the string by two bytes every time you request it. So we’ve now made it so it’s no longer depending on a buffer overrun because we’ve actually allocated enough buffer memory, but it’s always over allocated to account for that software dependency.

Wayne: Wow, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard of us actually knowingly putting a bug into software. That’s awesome. So if I’m an IT pro, and I just finished up a lot of work migrating to Windows Vista, what is Windows 7 going to do? What is that going to mean to me? Will I have to repeat a lot of that work? What are your thoughts on that?

Chris: Well when it comes to the work with Windows Vista, the majority of what you are doing is you’re updating it to meet the new security requirements that we began enforcing, starting with Windows Vista, things that were always in the guidelines, that you ought to do this, that this is really recommended, this is what you are supposed to do, but if you didn’t you got away with it, suddenly you couldn’t get away with it anymore, so we started enforcing those. We have not gone back on that bet at all, so all of the investments that you’ve made to get your applications working as a standard user are going to continue to pay off.

And in fact, if you are an enterprise who is using, for example, shims to keep software working without having to update the source code or buy another version, one of the greatest demos that I’ve seen done, it was actually Jeremy Chapman, one of the guys in front marketing, who took my demo app and the shim demo that I put together for our technical conferences, fixed it up in Windows Vista, took the shim database, fixing that application, dropped it in the USB key, pared it to Windows 7, installed it unchanged and the same apps continued to be fixed on Windows 7, with even shims continuing to work. So it’s just super important to us that we respect that. We can’t always do it. There are some dependencies, particularly when applications are hooking the operating system, which it’s kind of remarkable how many are. But for the most part we’re going to keep anything that’s reasonably well behaved continuing to work.

Wayne: So if you had a few minutes with an IT professional, maybe it’s the desktop support engineer or the IT manager of a mid-market company, and they were talking to you about considering an upgrade to Windows 7 in the future, what would the three things be that you’d share with them in preparing for that migration?

Chris: Well, the first thing is to be thinking about the application compatibility work that you need to do earlier rather than later. If you have a reasonably large application portfolio, I’ve seen some of the application compatibility projects take 18, sometimes even 24, months. A lot of that is simply because you have some fairly major projects to fix software along the way. Maybe you’ve started up a new development project for some internally developed software. You want to get started on things like that as early as possible. If you know today, that running as a standard user, or running as a protected administrator with UAC turned on, causes your application to have a problem, yet there’s really no reason to wait until, you know, if you’re waiting for Windows 7 RTM or even Windows 7 SP1, you shouldn’t have to wait until that shifts to start addressing those problems now to shorten that time later.

The second big recommendation is if you have people writing internal software, figure out what you want your future desktop to look like, if you want standard users, if you want to be on Windows 7, or at least Windows Vista, get your developers who are writing software creating software in the environment that you’d like to see so that they will stop developing software that depends on the current environment which you may be trying to modify in the future.

Wayne: Right, so being proactive and really thinking about the modern operating system where you are heading sounds to me like a really important discussion to have with your developers and your line of application business owners as well in your organization. So, what’s the third thing that you would ask them to do?

Chris: I don’t think I have a third thing.

Wayne: Well you don’t have to have three. So as part of the SWAT Team I assume that in addition to you shared with me a bit about the application compatibility toolkit, what other resources are available to our customers as they begin planning for this work?

Chris: Well, we’re doing a number of things. Like I said earlier, I described Windows 7 as the great Vista do over. Well a lot of what I mean by that is what are the different things that we can do strategically or the different activities we could be taking? The number one activity that I’m seeing a lot more efforts going on around are not simply looking at the technology, but looking at strategy and best practices. It’s a conversation I’ve been having for a while over trying to formalize it to say do things smarter, think about application management, and reducing your inventory. If you’ve got 20, 30, 40, and I’ve seen as high as 92,000 apps in an organization, what you need to do to make yourself more agile is not to be able to have more highly trained technicians, you need to dump a lot of those apps, and you need to have a strategy for how you are going to fix them, so that there the people doing the remediation know what the bounds are, and really approach things strategically at first, and not just launching directly at the technology. So we’ve got some initiatives going on there to help deliver that message, both from Microsoft and from our partners, we’ve got some great technology solutions, we’ve done some good investments in ACT to make it easier to use and to bring in a lot of the community data, we’ve gone to the Windows Compatibility Center, which is, that now finally integrates with that. It will starting at the end of the month, so I am promised. It’s a pretty reliable source, so I’m pretty sure that will actually take place, so we’ve done a lot of work on the tool side. And then of course, from my perspective, I’m the guy that goes out fixing things, I need all of my latest debugging tools for Windows, I need all my sys internal stuff, and I need LUA Buglight. All of those things put together give you a pretty good toolkit to solve anything you can come across.

Wayne: Sounds great. So building on that, what cool things are you excited about personally about Windows 7? And when you think about the IT professional, or even the consumer for that matter, what gets you pumped up for Windows 7?

Chris: There are a number of things. First of all, I think you’d notice immediately when you start using it is the performance. It is just in every country I’ve been to around the world has commented on the performance. It’s so much snappier feeling, it just feels better to use. Certainly, the user interface, we certainly did some work to lay the foundation in Windows Vista, but the most noticeable thing was this cool pixel-shader thing, which unless you’re a real hardcore geek, you don’t even see how cool that is, you just think “Okay, it’s see-through. Great.” Now we’ve got some really great behaviors in the user interface for helping them manage Windows better. There’s just a lot more for people to get excited about and to sort of feel better while using it, as opposed to the real geeky under the cover stuff, which really represented the story on the most exciting features of Windows Vista that only the geeks really cared about.

Wayne: Sounds great. Hey Chris, is there a website that you would recommend our listeners to learn more about app compatibility and Windows 7 planning?

Chris: Well we’ve got a TechNet portal on We try to keep that up to date with all of the latest links on tools, guidance, and white papers. We also try to divide things out by what is the role you’ll have in this exercise, so we can try to filter things down to the documents you may find interesting. Something else we’re trying to get is more targeted guidance so that we don’t give you “Hey, here’s the C code that’s compatible” if you’re an IT pro that just wants to learn how to fix a broken app.

Wayne: Well that’s great. We can definitely point our listeners to TechNet. And I want to thank you for your time today Chris, and wish you the best of luck as we move forward with Windows 7 planning and I’m sure our IT pros will appreciate this information today. Thanks to our listeners for joining us today. We spent time with Chris Jackson with Microsoft discussing ways in which Microsoft can help jump start your Windows 7 planning efforts. I’m your host Wayne Applehans. Please join us in May for our next session on making the most out of business intelligence.

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