Not everyone hates Vista.

In fact, for at least one early adopter-wholesale nursery company Norman’s Nursery-the move to Vista has paid off, with fewer help desk calls and easier administration chores on the back end.

While the San Gabriel, Cal.-based company’s ability to do a widescale PC refresh along with the Vista rollout for 83 systems won’t be realistic for larger companies, its experiences provide lessons for other IT leaders considering or preparing for a Vista upgrade.

The Move to Vista

In December 2006, Norman’s Nursery had yet to move to Windows XP. The company’s support agreement for Windows 2000 was running out, and since all operating systems would have to be replaced, they began discussing the Windows XP versus Vista question, says Martin Resnick, director of operations technology. At the same time, the company wanted to standardize its servers on Windows 2003 from a mix of Windows 2003 and Windows 2000. They also wanted to create standardization for easier administration on the back end. And they didn’t want to have to go through another OS upgrade anytime soon.

With its additional group policy objects, Vista won out, says Resnick. “The idea of our upgrading was that any user can go to any desktop at any location and see their printer, their files and folders, their desktop backgrounds-everything would stay the same.” Although most people at Norman’s Nursery do have dedicated workstations, the standardized environment makes dealing with contract or traveling workers much easier, and simplifies IT work with computer problems, Resnick says.

As applications, Resnick chose Office 2007 and Sharepoint. He also brought in new desktops (65) and laptops (18) for almost every employee. All desktops are Intel DualCore-based, running at a minimum of 2.4GHZ. They also have 2GB of RAM in each box. Laptops are AMD 1.6GHz (DualCore mode) and 2GB RAM. “We had built our own machines in the past, but since our goal was to standardize everything (hardware and software) it was more time and cost-effective to bring in new systems,” he says.

Surprises Along the Way

By January 2007, Resnick’s team began the serious work of prepping for the Vista rollout. They completed a successful implementation by October, but it wasn’t without its glitches. Just when they thought they were ready to complete the rollout, Resnick and team encountered a group policy problem related to imaging the machines (an automated installation kit that takes a blank desktop and pushes Vista and Office 2007 in one install).

“The system booted up fine but there was a problem with group policy, we were getting weird errors,” Resnick says. IT delayed the rollout so the team could troubleshoot. The problem turned out to be solvable via a hot fix. Once the team fixed the problem, they tested each machine separately.

“Getting all new machines while they’re doing this is a luxury that most organizations wouldn’t have,” says Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner. “The difficulty of testing is one reason most organizations are only upgrading to Vista as they replace old machines,” he says.

Winning Over Users

Four weeks after the problem occurred, Resnick was ready to roll out the computers with brand new operating systems and applications to users, an action he paved the way for with marketing and training.

“We figured the hardest part of the implementation would be user buy in, and we tried to create a fun environment around Vista coming with Sharepoint and Office 2007 and all it has to offer,” says Resnick. “Users hate change and Vista had so much negative press that marketing and addressing those concerns was key,” he says. To proactively combat resistance, “we did a lot of promotion to prepare users.”

That promotion campaign was decidedly un-techie. To advertise the upgrade and the upcoming training, Resnick and team had a graphic artist create games such as a word search and a crossword puzzle. The artist also created a “movie poster” with employees’ likenesses represented, which were hung in every department. The company also held contests surrounding the upgrade, such as the contest to see who could recognize the most people on the poster. “We became a marketing department for awhile,” says Resnick.

Coming soon to your office…”MIS Department in association with Norman’s Nursery presents IT Enhancement.” Norman’s Nursery used a “movie” poster with employees’ likenesses and movie-like copy and credits to generate Vista enthusiasm. Training with an Ocean Vista

The spirit of fun extended to Vista training, which came with an ocean view. Resnick led training for about 90 people at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. The training discussed the new features and showed users how to work with the new systems.

To augment the training, Resnick and team created user manuals, cheat sheets, and an online learning system in Sharepoint. “This way people could see how to do certain functions in action, review the training, and also to help with new employee orientation,” he says.

The marketing and training work paid off, says Resnick. “There were some exceptions but in general users were very receptive to the new system,” he says. “I think they understood what we were trying to do and they were well prepared for it.”

Communication around Vista is especially important, even if your organization is deciding to hold off on Vista, says Gartner’s Silver. “Organizations that aren’t rushing to deploy Vista need to do some communication as well to tell users why they’re not moving to Vista right away,” Silver says.

Overall, Resnick says the Vista upgrade was fairly smooth for employees. The move to Office 2007, on the other hand, “was the biggest shock to everyone,” Resnick says.

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