A year ago, the IT department at German automobile giant BMW started testing the Windows 7 beta - with the hopes of having the OS deployed for a few hundred workers by the end of 2009.

BMW reached that mile marker early. By the end of October, Munich-based BMW had exceeded its goal of having 500 test users running Windows 7.

The next round of deployments will be finished in October of this year with at least 5,000 deployed seats, says Bernhard Huber, BMW's Head of IT Workplace Systems. After that, the rollout of Windows 7 on all of BMW's 85,000 PCs will begin in the first half of 2011.

Huber's department is responsible for the purchase, operation and support of all of BMW's devices such as PCs, phones and printers, as well as its corporate applications like e-mail, telephony and video conferencing.

The reason for the rather rapid OS deployments, says Huber, is the positive experience that pilot users had with the Windows 7 RC (release candidate). BMW kept increasing the number of pilot users after the RTM (release to manufacturing) version of Windows 7 became available in late July.

"The demand for becoming a pilot user was extremely high, so we extended the program," says Huber.

As with every rollout of new software or a new OS version, there was skepticism from BMW employees about Windows 7, Huber says.

Many of them initially thought the interface features such as the revamped taskbar, thumbnail previews and jumplists were merely "playful", but soon came to regard them as essential time savers, Huber says. Federated search and easier connection of external devices in Windows 7 are other features winning over BMW users.

Huber and his staff recently solicited responses from various departments as part of the Windows 7 migration. Here are a few comments from BMW employees.

"I think Windows 7 is extremely user friendly. The performance has been increased in comparison to Vista. In particular Federated Search enables me to do my daily tasks quicker and easier."

"Since I work a lot with Office Communicator and need the quick provisioning of headsets and other [peripheral] devices, I like the quick and uncomplicated ease of use of these devices. Just plug them in and it works."

"My favorite feature is the optimized taskbar. I really like the pin and unpin possibility of programs and like to the transparency mode of previews as well."

As BMW moves to deploy Windows 7 on thousands more of its PCs, Huber says he's focused on increasing productivity at both the individual and team levels.

For individual BMW workers who travel frequently between the auto maker's 250 locations around the world, Windows 7's longer battery life will be an asset in hotels and airports, says Huber, adding that his testing has shown that Windows 7 has 20 percent more battery life than previous versions of Windows.

Huber also emphasizes Windows 7's quick and easy connectivity to the BMW corporate network through DirectAccess, a networking tool used in conjunction with Windows Server 2008 R2 that eliminates the need for a VPN (virtual private network), and BranchCache, which speeds up networks in remote offices by caching files locally.

"We are saving five minutes every day with over 10,000 people - that is what I call individual productivity," says Huber.

He adds that quicker network connections to the company network and the ability to find and share files in Windows 7 eases the burden on the IT department and boosts team productivity. The result, he says, will be an improved sense of team spirit at BMW.

"These Windows 7 features increase productivity of course, but for me they do more than that - they create a spirit of innovation and creativity within teams and allow BMW employees to spend more time with our customers."