Microsoft wins the PC argument for Windows 10

Microsoft stands a good chance of gaining wide acceptance for the operating system on enterprise PCs in cutting admin with automated updates

Windows 10 offers one operating system (OS) and application platform for all device types, from internet-of-things (IoT) devices to personal mobile devices and PCs, to conference room systems and servers.

This common platform will support and enable a range of consistent and familiar capabilities for users, developers and technology management teams across the growing variety of digital touch points and smart connected products.

Universal apps built on one integrated development environment can be designed to adapt to a wide range of use cases and sold through one combined app store.

For large enterprises, Microsoft aims to ease the burden of large-scale PC upgrades – which involve significant acceptance testing, and wiping and reloading OS images – by offering easy upgrades on Windows 7 or later. And the same technology enables provisioning of new machines by simply logging into Azure Active Directory.

Microsoft promises to deliver feature updates regularly – just as websites and mobile apps providers do – rather than in bulky and infrequent service packs. The goal is to enable customers to get the latest features and security updates, but with flexibility for companies to choose a standardised testing interval to prepare and implement updates.

The company expands its mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM) capabilities to manage PCs, enabling enterprises to take a unified approach to managing devices. It will add enterprise app store features to improve licence management, updates and flexible distribution.

However, enterprises with large Windows 7 environments or lots of legacy applications won’t see the full benefits of these capabilities until they update their PC fleet and older apps. Existing group policy tools will continue to work and will be enhanced to complement the new approach.

Although Microsoft reports that Windows 8 has been installed on more than 100 million PCs, that’s less than 10% of the 1.5 billion PCs in use; by contrast, 75 million PCs upgraded to Windows 10 in four weeks of its release. Microsoft developers and technology managers face a fractured installed base led by Windows 7 PCs, with a mix of Windows 8 and badly lagging Windows Vista and Windows XP PCs. So app, web and mobile developers haven’t been able to easily address the full Windows ecosystem with one easy offering; they have to either work to an unattractive lowest common denominator – embracing a complex testing and features matrix – or build a more compelling experience, but only reach a fraction of the audience.

The task of addressing this fractured installed base of older Windows versions is complicated by inconsistent customer adoption of Microsoft updates and security patches, including Internet Explorer versions. This means enterprise developers, security staff and PC support teams face a complex compatibility matrix when planning websites, customer applications, Windows upgrades and PC deployments. This limits Microsoft’s ability to use its PC dominance to join the mobile transformation driven by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

In on-premises software, feature updates are tied to large, complex upgrades. In addition to offloading the cost and responsibility of maintaining Exchange and other platforms, Office 365 allowed Microsoft to deliver capabilities with rolling system updates.

By moving to the new model, Microsoft delivers Windows 10 features at cloud speeds without having to rely on the customer’s ability to take on a large-scale upgrade. Customers will feel more comfortable in maintaining an ongoing investment in software assurance if they see constant payback for that investment.

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An enterprise heir to Windows 7?

Enterprises will ultimately embrace Windows 10 – rather than move to Windows 8 – once Microsoft proves the update service will work for Windows as well as it has for Office 365.

Windows 10 will enable Microsoft to retain its leading position in PC computing, especially in the enterprise, where the PC remains a critical work tool – particularly for heavy productivity applications and complex enterprise software workflows. Some believe Windows 10 will become the enterprise standard – the successor to Windows 7 – a status Windows 8 could not attain.

But Microsoft faces a long road ahead to gain share for Windows in the mobile market. Windows 10 will win a growing share of enterprise tablet purchases, because it fits so easily into its familiar PC and MDM strategies. But consumers will be much harder to win for Windows tablets and smartphones, limiting its value for enterprise in a world driven by consumer adoption trends. Microsoft has succeeded in gaining traction in a few national markets, such as Italy’s. But, while its unified development model allows developers to more easily deliver universal Windows applications that work on mobile devices, it doesn’t give them an advantage on what makes mobile apps special; delivering on mobile moments. The plans for Windows 10 don’t show enough potential for creating a differentiated mobile experience to draw developers and customers away from iOS and Android.

What will determine the success of Windows 10?

IT leaders should join Microsoft in its goal of erasing the technical challenges to upgrading Windows and standardising Windows update timing, so PCs begin to evolve at the same pace as mobile and web applications, while remaining secure. The faster enterprises engage Microsoft with the technical details of Windows 10, the more likely the company’s success in improving the enterprise Windows experience.

Microsoft’s plans for easy upgrades and updates will yield substantial improvements in IT processes and costs. A key element of success will be how to partition the Windows installed base into mainstream PCs where this strategy might work, special PCs that require more stringent or conservative approaches and embedded systems that need simple, stable support for long periods. Then IT staff should work through the proposed approaches with Microsoft to see if at least the mainstream PCs can be compatible with the Windows 10 strategy.

Analyst company Forrester recommends using Windows 10 as a means to modernise the organisation’s Windows management strategy. When most of your PCs are running Windows 7 and only a few are running Windows 10, it’s tempting to take the shortcut of extending your existing management tools and policies to Windows 10, instead of using Windows 10 to pull them into the future. But doing so could prove a mistake, because Windows 10 is a key step in Microsoft’s strategy to simplify Windows management. Embrace the integrated app store, says the analyst, start building your expertise with in-place upgrades and evaluate your PC management tool suppliers’ capabilities for Windows 10. If you don’t have a clear plan or a strong Windows 10 strategy, now may be the time to make the change.

Finally, two-factor authentication, integrated enterprise data protection and Device Guard app installation controls promise powerful improvements to enterprise Windows security. Security and risk professionals should dive into the details immediately to evaluate any upgrades and changes in procedures that are needed to exploit the security features – and plan for how to work with the new features.

This is an extract from the Forrester report, Brief: Microsoft gets Its flagship OS back on track with Windows 10 (January 2015) by Frank E. Gillett, J P Gownder, Ted Schadler, and David K. Johnson.

This was first published in October 2015

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