Using Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) to Help with Windows 7 Deployment
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Why Use ACT
Windows deployments have always been very involved processes. Compatibility issues are a huge concern whenever an OS is refreshed or updated, and even more so in organizations that rely on critical third-party applications to conduct their day-to-day business. Because of this, a standardized testing program is necessary to ensure that minimal troubleshooting will be needed after a successful Windows deployment.
At its core, the Microsoft ACT allows you to verify compatibility between applications, devices, and system hardware with new versions of the Windows operating system (currently Windows 7). You are not limited to complete OS updates either, you can also assess and determine any compatibility risks involved in installing smaller Windows Updates.
The ACT also includes the Standard User Analyzer (SUA) tool to test applications for issues related to User Account Control (UAC). This is a great feature, as the UAC feature has been an issue (or caused issues) in the past since its release in Windows Vista, though it's admittedly much better in Windows 7.
Finally, you'll also have access to the Internet Explorer Compatibility Test Tool. This tool, as the name suggests, allows you to test web applications and websites for compatibility with new releases and security updates to Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Common Compatibility Issues
So what kind of compatibility issues should you expect to find with the Application Compatibility Toolkit?
Microsoft has created a list of common compatibility issues. I'll go over them briefly, but you can read about them in detail on Microsoft TechNet. The following technologies are most likely to have compatibility issues (and most have quick fixes available):
- UAC: While UAC adds an extra layer of security by minimizing administrator-level access to the computer, it also affects application installers, features, or updates that require Administrator permissions to run.
- Windows Resource Protection (WRP): Basically, when an application attempts to write to protected system files or registry locations, WRP kicks in and creates a temporary work area to allow the application to function as intended without modifying any protected areas. These attempts usually fail with an Access Denied error.
- Internet Explorer Protected Mode: This technology helps to protect your machine against elevation-of-privilege attacks by only allowing web sites or web applications to write to temporary Internet files.
- Deprecations, GINA, and Session 0: Windows 7's framework changes have caused various issues with deprecated APIs or DLLs from Windows XP and Windows Vista. The Graphical Identification and Authentication DLL went through a big change in Windows Vista, therefore, older GINA DLLs are ignored. Finally, prior to Windows Vista, the first user who logged on to a computer ran in Session 0, the same session used by all system services. In Windows Vista, this has changed so that users and system services run on separate sessions (users now start in Session 1.)
- Windows Filtering Platform (WFP): WFP is an API used to interact with various networking stack filtering functions, applications using older versions of this API might experience failures when running network-scanning, antivirus programs or firewalls.
- Operating System Version Changes: Some application installers check for the OS version number to allow installation only on supported platforms. If an application that would otherwise work with Windows 7, only checks for previous OS version numbers, the application will fail to install.
- Windows Vista 64-bit: While most 32-bit applications can run perfectly fine using a built in emulation program, some 16-bit executables/installers, or applications that rely on 32-bit kernel drivers, may fail to start or function incorrectly.
ACT will allow you to quickly find applications that suffer from compatibility issues so you can better assess the impact on your organization, and come up with a solution to minimize or fix the issue alltogether. Finding out about these compatibility issues before deployment will save you and your organization from having to spend extra time (and money) troubleshooting and minimize downtime.
Verifying Application Compatibility
How will you know if an application is compatible with Windows 7?
ACT uses quite a few methods to find out if an application is compatible with Windows 7. The most valuable information, in my opinion, is the ACT community assessment rating. This rating is calculated by combining the ratings of other IT professionals who have gone through the deployment process and found issues (or no issues) in the software included in the deployment. Ratings are displayed graphically by five colored bars, ranging from red, to yellow, and finally green.
There are three available scores, based on the rating for an application.
- Works: If you vote that an application works, it is denoted as five green bars.
- Works with minor issues or has solutions: If you vote that an application has minor issues, it is denoted as three light green bars.
- Does not work If you vote that an application does not work, it is denoted as a single red bar.
How Can You Help Make ACT Better
Application ratings are based on combined ratings from Microsoft, the application vendors, and the ACT community. By joining the ACT community, all ratings you leave for applications will be included for others to refer to.
The following table describes the icons you'll see for Microsoft and Vendor Assessments on the Analyze screen. This screenshot was taken directly from Microsoft TechNet.
Your assessment rating will be combined with other IT Professionals' ratings to help aid future deployments. I highly recommend becoming an ACT community member, as assessment ratings are an invaluable tool for pre-deployments.
Resolving Compatibility Issues
The great thing about assessment ratings is that many come with solutions to fix the issues that come up. Some of these are in the form of updates, patches, or even simply user-submitted fixes that you can read up on to figure out which solution is right for you.
Many fixes are ACT patches such as "ForceAdminAccess, LocalMappedObject, VirtualizeHKCRLite, and ElevateCreateProcess". Many of these can be quickly added to the application in question by just clicking on their respective check boxes. After testing that the fixes work, you can continue on with the deployment without worry.
Give ACT a Try
While there is much more to the Application Compatibility Toolkit, this should help start you off with understanding its major functions, and what benefits the Microsoft ACT can provide you and your organization during the Windows 7 deployment process.
Download the Application Compatibility Toolkit and give it a try.
If you have any questions or comments regarding Microsoft's ACT, feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks for reading, and good luck with your Windows 7 deployment.