It appears Microsoft has hit the PC operating system target with Windows 7. It's fast, intuitive, and secure, but what's in it for us IBM i professionals?
The reasoning for migration to Microsoft's latest version of its operating system is quite compelling, enough so that directors of traditional IBM i installations may decide the effort and expense of conversion is merited. This article examines the major benefits and significant limitations of migrating to Windows 7 in the IBM i environment as well as the requirements for its implementation.
The Case for Windows 7
For the Microsoft Corporation, it's been a tough decade what with their missteps with the Vista operating system, reverse downgrades to XP, and Microsoft's lack of innovation (look what Apple has done in the same period). Microsoft has also suffered from malware attacks targeted at security weak spots, criticism over cost of ownership as compared with UNIX and Mac, and lawsuits in the U.S. and Europe. Even Microsoft's effort to market its software has been feeble (you've seen the commercials—a doughy Windows representative versus a likeable, young Mac spokesperson.)
Prior to Windows 7's release, Windows users had two choices: go with Windows Vista and make the best of it or stick with Windows XP, an operating system now 10 years old. But Windows 7 may have saved the day for Microsoft and its customers. This latest operating system is sleek, fast, and stable. And it lacks the nagging security sentinel that has been annoying Vista users for years.
Compatibility with Existing Applications
In Windows 7's initial release in fall of 2009, a number of compatibility issues with existing applications emerged. In cases of known problems, a dialog box would pop up announcing that there was a compatibility issue and giving the user the option of searching Microsoft's solution base for resolution. In actual practice, the problems were seldom corrected in this manner but instead were rectified through normal Windows updates.
On the Windows 7 32-bit platform, most compatibility problems have been fixed; about 2,600 out of 3,330 popular applications listed on Microsoft's Windows 7 Web site are now compatible. About 10% of the applications still have problems and will require an update from the software provider to resolve the issues; another 10% are listed as Pending, which suggests the possibility of a fix in the future; and only a handful are not compatible with no apparent plan to make them so. Note that Windows 7 for 64-bit processors lags behind its 32-bit cousin in terms of compatibility, with only about 70% of the most popular applications listed as Compatible, Future Compatible, or Compatible After Upgrade from the Software Provider.
These are the notable software applications that are not compatible with Windows 7 x86 for 32-bit processors (with presently no intent to make them compatible):
- Lotus Notes version 8
- Microsoft Office 2000 and Microsoft 97 (requires a paid upgrade to Office 2003/2007)
- Microsoft Exchange Server 2007
- Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Team Suite
- Microsoft Picture It! 2005 and 2007
- Microsoft .NET Framework 1.0 (free upgrade required)
- Microsoft SQL Server Standard (x64)
Here's the notable IBM software that is not compatible presently but is listed as Pending - Information Coming Soon:
- Lotus 1-2-3 version 9
- DB2 Express, Workgroup and Enterprise, version 9
- Websphere Application Server, version 6 and Websphere Application Server Network Deployment, version 7
If you're running Windows 7 for 64-bit machines, the application listings vary significantly from the above. Note also that the listings will change with time as vendors and Microsoft resolve compatibility issues. For more information on compatibility with Windows 7, see Microsoft's Application Compatibility Web site.
This is perhaps the best part of Win7. Microsoft has rethought its snooty Vista posture in which your hardware is evaluated to see if it's capable of supporting their bloated operating system. Instead, Windows 7 actually runs faster and with greater support for application throughput and graphics rendering than XP (that's not a typo; I do mean XP!). In testing here, Windows 7 loads and runs applications 25% to 30% faster than XP on single-core x86 machines. Testing with 64-bit and multi-core processors also indicates improved performance and utilization under Win7, bearing in mind that most PC applications still can't light up more than one processor.
Windows 7 User Interface
Again, MS has learned its lesson. Windows 7 provides a level of user interface eye candy that matches the machine it's running on. If you have the graphics processing power to support Aero (Windows 7's glossy, everything-glows-in-the-dark look), then you get it. If not, you get a less-demanding scheme that still supports good performance. Other new UI features include the snap-fit of two side-by-side applications on the screen, a new task bar with "jump to" screen views, and a new Start menu with shortcuts to recently used applications and the files they were using. Windows 7 also provides convenient and intuitive shortcut keys and improved color and font rendering.
Windows7 with IBM i Access
With a couple of exceptions, IBM i Access is now well supported under Windows 7. Officially, IBM stands behind Windows 7 compatibility only for iSeries V5R3 users and up. iSeries users at V5R3 and up should be running i Access version V6R1 on the client. According to IBM, you can acquire the V6R1 IBM i Access for Windows client while keeping your IBM i operating system at V5R4 by ordering 5722XW1 (IBM i Access Family) refresh feature 2649. This feature is available at no charge to current 5722-XW1 IBM i Access Family customers that have a software maintenance contract. Also, please note IBM indicates that information in IBM's Windows 7 APARs also applies to Windows Server 2008 R2.
Unofficially, testing with earlier versions of iSeries operating systems indicate problem-free operation for mainstream i Access and iSeries Access applications like 5250 terminal emulation, print sharing, and file transfers. Standard Windows applications like network drive mapping to an iSeries, file sharing, and TCP/IP applications such as FTP also are well-behaved under Windows 7 and prior versions of iSeries operating systems.
Things IBM Wants You to Know
If you're considering upgrading to Windows 7, the most important things IBM officially wants you to know are these:
- The V6R1 IBM i Access for Windows client will begin supporting Windows 7 with service pack SI35607.
- There are no plans to support the V5R4 IBM i Access for Windows client on Windows 7.
- Microsoft has released a security update that is now a prerequisite for all future V6R1 IBM i Access for Windows service packs. For information about the security update and how to install it, click here.
- The AFP Driver and AFP Viewer components in the V6R1 IBM i Access for Windows client will not be supported on Windows 7 until sometime in 2010.
Windows User Account Control and i Access
Some features of i Access and iSeries Access require a Windows administrator's level of user authority, and i Access is unable to prompt the user for an admin password. That means that if you choose to enable User Account Control (UAC) on your Windows PCs, then your users may be required to right-click on an i Access icon or Start menu item and then select "Run as administrator" to successfully run the application. Users who do not have administrator authority on the PC will be prompted for an administrator's password when the application is first launched. (Refer to Information APAR II14338 for details on elevated authority aspects of IBM i Access with Windows Vista.)
As with Microsoft's Vista OS, there may be issues caused when i Access or a third-party application attempts to create folders or files in a directory that the user does not have access to. Under Windows 7, the user does not have access to the root (C:) directory, as well as any directory under Program Files. If you must, you can remedy this situation in Program Files by changing the owner of a directory and all of its subdirectories:
- Start Windows Explorer.
- Right-click on the folder name and select Properties.
- Click the Security tab, then click the Advanced button, and then click the Owner tab.
- Select a user with Administrator authority that is to become the owner of the folders and files.
- Put a check on Replace Owner On Subdirectories And Objects and click Apply.
IBM i Access Installation Considerations
Once the SI35607 PTF is applied to the IBM i system, you can install the PC-side service pack from the network share named ROOT on your IBM i. Accessing this share uses the LAN Manager component of Windows and NetServer support on the IBM i. Much like Vista, Windows 7 has a default negotiation method for such connections that may fail when accessing the IBM i. One way to resolve this problem is to change a policy setting on the PC. Changing the policy setting requires administrator authority and can be performed as follows:
- Go into the Windows Control Panel and select Administrative Tools.
- Double-click Local Security Policy in the right pane.
- From the Local Security Policy window, expand Local Policies.
- Select Security Options.
- In the right pane, scroll down to the setting called Network Security: LAN Manager Authentication Level and double-click it.
- Change it to Send LM & NTLM - Use NTLMv2 Session Security If Negotiated.
- Select OK, and exit. You should now be able to access the network share.
On Windows 7, when installing or updating IBM i Access for Windows from a network share, you must first map a network drive from a command prompt that has elevated authority (i.e., was launched with "Run as Administrator").
Other Windows 7 Installation Issues
Aside from i Access installation considerations, some PC-side problems have been reported under Windows 7. These issues are mostly authority oriented, meaning some or all dependent components of a software package are not installed with the rest of the package. For example, installing a software package that includes third-party DLLs and OCXs may fail to include those components during the installation under Windows 7. Ironically, some of the components that fail most frequently come from Microsoft.
The resolution for these incidents is to install the missing components manually under elevated command mode. To do that, sign on as the PC's administrator and copy the missing components to the proper directory (usually Windows/System32 for common OCX and DLL files). Then, register the components into the System Registry:
- Start a DOS command session in Elevated Command Mode (go to the Start menu, choose Accessories, right-click on Command Prompt, and select Run As Administrator).
- Navigate to the directory where the OCX has been copied ('cd c:windowssystem32')
- Register the OCX with the REGSVR command (mscomctl.ocx is used here as an example):
For complete information, please see IBM's Web site for Windows 7 and i Access.
Anecdotally, as an instructor in the Computer Science department at Eastern Washington University, a feeder college for Microsoft, I can testify that MS accepts only the best and the brightest. This time the best and the brightest got it right. And who knows; maybe by letting some other software giant (read: Google) take control over aspects of IT for awhile, Microsoft can be perceived as a bit less sinister.
All in all, it's agreed even among Microsoft critics that Windows 7 is the best operating system the "Evil Empire" has produced to date.