Dell Testing of Windows Vista

With the news today that Microsoft has released Windows Vista “gold code” to Enterprise license customers I thought it would be a good time to talk about exactly what is Dell doing to prepare your system for Vista. The answer involves over 100,000 hours of testing, hundreds of engineers, and as mentioned in the previous blog a staggering number of test configurations. (By the way; 100,000 hours to over equates to over 52 years)

This testing includes lots of things: usage-based feature and functionality testing of the OS; compatibility testing for peripherals and applications; customer based usability testing and performance testing. Dell has utilized its worldwide facilities to conduct testing around the clock to ensure that we provided timely feedback to Microsoft on feature/function changes as well as full milestone based test passes. At Dell, this means a lot more than testing done by other computer manufactures. Even the normal Dell testing means a lot more than just the testing of one configuration that we sell—it means literally hundreds of peripherals, devices, and applications in various combinations and configurations to ensure that no matter what is ordered, the system will work the way it was designed. To be done right, testing a new operating system like Vista is a big responsibility—it meant that we would need to rework our entire test process.

What is the basis of the testing process? Very early on, we realized some of the changes that Microsoft made for Vista invalidated our ordinary testing process. So we redesigned our testing based upon a how a typical user might utilize the entire product. This holistic model creates an enormously more complex and effective test matrix that helps to ferret out problems that crop up when you test the whole system. This is quite different from the typical industry “test routine” that tests a specific part to see if it works and then moves on….leaving it up to the customer to find out if a specific combination of a TV tuner, graphics card, and mouse works or causes a blue screen.

We try to think of how a customers uses their system. For instance, a high-end desktop user may use their systems for all kinds of things: playing 3D games, watching, recording and streaming live TV, editing videos and digital photos, surfing the web via a broadband connection, listening to digital music, etc. We designed a user scenario for a power user who will use multiple graphics cards and monitors to play games, surf the web, listen to music, do email, and homework all at the same time. We then designed a series of test cases to approximate this user scenario—configured the system with the maximum memory; added various devices that are generally used in this environment and connected it in a typical home network attached to a cable or DSL modem and stressed the machine to its full capabilities over an extended period of time. We then duplicated this process in Asia and Europe to take into account regional factors. In doing this, we quickly discovered issues not only with the operating system, but graphics, audio, USB and other devices/drivers as well as applications. While this real-world approach to testing takes longer, we feel it is more comprehensive and provides better overall test data for Dell and all of our partners.

Dell has used the results of this testing to ensure all of our currently shipping systems would be ready to support Vista upon release and to verify that properly configured legacy products would provide an acceptable customer experience. Those results were also used to provide information to customers on our Vista site at Dell will utilize the experience gained in its testing to provide full solutions to its customers to who want to utilize the new Vista OS with Office 2007and Exchange Server 2007. In addition, Dell has logged hundreds of issues with Microsoft development teams and suppliers and worked directly with the developers to resolve the issues.

About the Author: Mark Anderson