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Is Windows 11 finally ready for take-off?

Billy MacInnes looks at the progress made by operating system Windows 11 since its launch in 2021

Following an understated launch in October 2021, adoption rates for Windows 11 have remained soft. After reaching a peak of just over 28% of desktop market share worldwide in February this year, the operating system (OS) share has declined over the past two months, ceding ground to its predecessor Windows 10.

In October 2021, Panos Panay, chief product officer at Microsoft, wrote in a company blog: “Today marks an exciting milestone in the history of Windows...[Windows 11 is] a driving force for innovation. We’re pumped to be launching Windows 11.”

In the same post, he highlighted the prominent role hardware partners would play in the adoption of Windows 11. “Each one of our partners is critical to bringing Windows 11 to life,” Panay wrote, adding that Microsoft was proud to offer Windows 11 on the widest array of choice in devices, form factors and silicon”.

When MicroScope published an article scrutinising what seemed to be the slow adoption of Windows 11 in May 2022, Microsoft referred us to a blog post by Panay in January of that year where he claimed there had been “strong demand and preference for Windows 11 with people accepting the upgrade offer to Windows 11 at twice the rate we saw for Windows 10. Windows 11 also has the highest quality scores and product satisfaction of any version of Windows weve ever shipped.”

Whatever the response of its customers, Microsoft appears be a very satisfied user of its own product, claiming it had rolled out the operating system to 190,000 devices internally in just five weeks.

We count our upgrade to Windows 11 as a strong success story. We had no increase in support tickets, we had broad adoption across the company, and it was our fastest deployment in company history,” it added.

But was the company guilty of – for want of a better phrase – getting high on its own supply?

At that point in time, Windows 11 had a market share of around 9%, according to Statcounter, with Windows 10 on just over 73% and Windows 7 on 12.6%. Two years later, the latest figures don’t exactly make for a resounding vote of confidence in Windows 11. Statcounter’s figures for the worldwide desktop Windows version market share for April 2024 show Windows 10 on just under 70% and Windows 11 on 26.19%. That’s down from a peak of just over 28% in February and only slightly higher than the 23.11% share it started with in April 2023.

Windows 11 was hindered in its early days by the enhanced security requirements of the OS, which meant it would only be supported on processors with UEFI secure boot that are Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0 supported and enabled. This left many Windows workstations ineligible for an upgrade to Windows 11. It’s also been hobbled by the perception among some customers that this is more a case of “Windows Meh” than Windows 11.

It may have also suffered from the surge in laptop and PC sales during the pandemic, most of which occurred before the Windows 11 release. Purchasers of those computers are unlikely to rush out and upgrade their machines for quite some time.

Migrate versus remain

So, where are we in the migration to Windows 11? What feedback are customers giving channel partners about the OS, and does it matter to them if Windows 11 take-up remains low?

Shane Maher, managing director at Intelliworx, is in the Windows 11 camp: “It offers several compelling features and benefits that can help convince customers to upgrade, with Copilot and enhanced support standing out. Copilot is an invaluable tool [because it] streamlines tasks, enhances productivity and provides intuitive user support.”

Maher also highlights the operating system’s robust support features: “These ensure users have access to comprehensive assistance and resources, which is crucial for maintaining smooth operations and addressing any technical issues promptly.”

He reports generally positive feedback from customers about Windows 11, saying that channel partners should highlight its enhanced security, productivity features and future-proofing benefits to customers to improve adoption rates. It is essential that partners help businesses implement a well-planned strategy for endpoint devices – including compatibility assessments, standardisation and modern deployment methods – for a smooth transition to Windows 11, he adds.

“We are at an opportune time to upgrade. Windows 11 is at the forefront of advancements in cloud computing and AI, providing a modern, efficient and secure platform designed to leverage these technologies,” says Maher, adding that the integration of cloud services and AI capabilities enhances performance and productivity, “but also future-proofs IT infrastructure, ensuring businesses stay competitive in the rapidly evolving digital landscape”.

He may be right, but it doesn’t appear as if a majority of businesses are too interested in future-proofing their IT infrastructure just yet.

So, what can be done in the meantime by channel partners to help customers staying on Windows 10 to maximise their security and the effectiveness of their existing desktop estate?

According to Maher, partners can help by leveraging Microsoft 365 licensing and the extended security update programme to ensure that Windows 10 systems continue to receive critical security updates and support, mitigating potential vulnerabilities. Channel partners should also guide businesses in selecting the appropriate version servicing option for Windows 10, ensuring they receive the most relevant updates and features to maintain optimal performance and security.

Jim Elder, vice-president for Global Pathways at Blancco, suggests that AI-enabled PCs could help increase the pace of Windows 11 adoption. “The delay in Windows 10 adoption may be due to customers waiting for the launch of new AI-enabled PCs,” he says, claiming they may be poised to accelerate the refresh cycle.

Channel partners could also benefit from this acceleration in the refresh cycle due to an increase in demand for data sanitisation and other services and solutions related to preparing older equipment to be retired, donated or resold into secondary markets. “Enterprises are already increasing their focus on certified data sanitisation before moving any equipment into the circular economy via ITAD [IT asset disposition] or other channels, especially in highly regulated industries,” adds Elder.

The carrot and the stick

Microsoft seems to be adopting a carrot-and-stick approach to persuade more users to adopt Windows 11. The carrot is the aforementioned promise of AI-enabled PCs, known as Copilot+ PCs, described as “the fastest, most intelligent Windows PCs ever built”.

The software behemoth announced a number of these machines at an event in May this year. Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft executive vice-president and consumer chief marketing officer, claimed 50 million AI-enabled PCs would be bought over the next year and that the ability to run AI assistants directly on PCs would be the most compelling reason to upgrade your PC in a long time”.

The potential for AI-enabled PCs is something market research company Canalys identified at the beginning of 2024 when it predicted that 19% of PCs shipped this year will be AI-capable. According to Canalys, momentum will continue to build once these products hit the market – to the extent that the portion of devices being sold using the technology will reach 60% by 2027.

This is all well and good, but it’s highly likely that Microsoft’s current operating system won’t be Windows 11 by that stage – and not everyone agrees there’s much to be gained in migrating to the new OS.

Simon Pardo, director of Computer Care, has a far from positive view of Windows 11: “Our customers give us plenty of feedback about Windows 11, and little of it is complimentary.”

He reports a common complaint is that the operating system is full of “preinstalled bloatware that steals resources and scrapes data”, adding: “Annoyingly, its not optimised for either business or home use, leaving it stranded in no mans land when its no good for either user.” Microsoft should offer more control over pre-installed apps and features, and let users easily remove bloatware and disable unwanted data collection, he says.

“Windows 11 sucks users deeper into its ecosystem by almost forcing users to create a Microsoft account,” says Pardo. The user interface is confusing, he adds, because although Microsoft has kept the look similar to Windows 10, it has also made changes in familiar feature locations, such as the start button.

He argues that Microsoft could improve adoption rates by addressing userscompatibility concerns. Clearer guidance on system requirements and improving the accuracy of the Upgrade Checker would help users make an informed decision about upgrading, he says. Microsoft should also provide regular updates and patches to maintain the latest security features and bug fixes for those who prefer to stay on Windows 10.

And this brings us to the stick – the end of life for Windows 10.

Whatever weaknesses there may be in Microsoft’s communications around updates and patches to keep Windows 10 up to date, it can’t be accused of falling short when making sure everyone is aware that the operating system will reach its end of life on 14 October 2025 – which is almost exactly four years after the launch of Windows 11.

A quick calculation suggests that Microsoft needs to convince an awful lot of its users currently on Windows 10, as many as seven out of every 10 apparently, to make the switch to Windows 11 in the next year and a half. Does that sound likely? Not really. But then maybe the lure of AI-enabled PCs will prove irresistible to all those users who have been hanging on to Windows 10 despite all the attractions of Windows 11.

To a certain extent, Microsoft is dealing with the same problem that it faced with Windows 7: trying to convince users perfectly happy with one version of its operating system to migrate to a new one. In that instance, the shift was supposed to happen from Windows 7 to Windows 8 but, despite all of Microsoft’s attempts to convince users to switch, many of them proved highly resistant. It was only with the arrival of Windows 10 that people started to move. Even then, it wasn’t an overnight phenomenon. 

Windows is dead, long live Windows

Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that people don’t feel the need to upgrade their Windows OS quite as frequently as Microsoft thinks they should. Think back even further to Windows XP and Microsoft’s attempts to shift people to Windows Vista. On second thoughts, there are probably quite a few people who work/worked for Microsoft who would rather not think back to that time at all.

The upshot is that there was a space of eight years between the initial launch of Windows XP and that of Windows 7. Vista was launched and forgotten in the space of two years. Something similar happened with Windows 7. The gap between its launch and that of Windows 10 was six years. In between, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 barely had time to enjoy their arrival before they were consigned to the dustbin of history.

In that context, we might expect Windows 11 to be faring somewhat better than it is, given the six-year gap between the launch of Windows 10 and Windows 11. True, there was no failed OS launched in the interval between 10 and 11, and Windows 11 doesn’t quite match the poor performance of Windows Vista or Windows 8 to suggest it belongs in their company. The next year and a half may signal whether it belongs in the column headed “successful Windows operating systems” or the one for those that didn’t pass muster.

By October 2025, Windows 11 will be four years old. With Windows 10 on its farewell lap, the other interesting question is whether Windows 11 will be superseded in the meantime by the launch of Windows 12. There has been some speculation that it could happen and you have to wonder if it would be too much of a surprise to many people if it did.

Will it be a case of “Windows 10 is dead, long live Windows 11” in October next year or will it be “Windows 10 is dead, long live Windows 12”? Or perhaps Windows 10 will live to fight another day because not enough users have switched over to the newer version of the operating system.

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