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The slow journey to Windows 11

Microsoft has been emphasising the positives of Windows 11, but users appear to be taking their time in migrating to the latest operating system

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: MicroScope: The slow march to Windows 11

On 4 October 2021, chief product officer at Microsoft, Panos Panay, announced via a blog post that Windows 11 would be available from 5 October. In that post, he described the roll-out as an “exciting milestone” and declared Microsoft as a “driving force for innovation”.

“Each one of our partners is critical to bringing Windows 11 to life,” Panay wrote, adding that Microsoft was “pumped to be launching...and proud to offer Windows 11 on the widest array of choice in devices, form factors and silicon”.

Security played an important role in the highlight reel for Windows 11, with Panay saying the previous year had proven the necessity for security to be built in “from the hardware up”, including the chip and the cloud, and therefore the platform was designed with security in mind.

But by pointing to the enhanced security requirements of Windows 11, he also drew attention to one of the biggest potential drags for existing Windows 10 users on the adoption of the latest operating system (OS). Namely, that it would only be supported on processors with UEFI secure boot that are Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0 supported and enabled. The OS can be installed on unsupported processors, but Microsoft does not guarantee the availability of updates.

The extent of the upgradability issue became apparent in data provided by Lansweeper based on an audit of 30 million Windows devices across 60,000 organisations, which found only 44.4% of workstations were eligible to receive the automatic upgrade. Six months later, in April 2022, Lansweeper found that only 1.44% of users in the audit had upgraded to Windows 11. The most popular OS was Windows 10 at 80.34%, but Windows 11 adoption lagged behind Windows XP and Windows 7.

A month earlier, enterprise network performance specialist Riverbed issued The state of digital experience report, which found that more than a third of devices in use were not capable of running Windows 11 without an upgrade, and 12% of them would need to be replaced completely. TPM was the main factor forcing an upgrade, but 20% of devices would also require a storage upgrade to meet the minimum requirement for the new OS.

“While the benefits to Windows 11 are clear,” the report stated, “the device requirements will make migration challenging for many enterprises, particularly during a time when supply chain challenges…may make replacing or upgrading deficient devices challenging.”

It’s an interesting side-effect of the supply issues that have affected the PC market for the past year or so, that businesses would be tempted to keep their devices running Windows 10 for longer because of the challenges they face in sourcing replacement products or the components required to upgrade existing devices.

A moderate start

Whatever the causes, Windows 11 isn’t exactly flying off the shelves. In April 2022, AdDuplex reported that the usage share of Windows 11 seemed to be stalling, growing by less than 0.4% in April and less than 0.2% in March. AdDuplex noted that while Windows 11 wasn’t growing, the most recent version of Windows 10, called 21H2, had added another 6.5%.

The impression that the latest Windows OS was taking a long time to become established was reinforced by Statcounter figures for the desktop Windows version global market share in April 2022, which showed Windows 11 in third place on 8.89%, behind Windows 7 on 12.62% and Windows 10 on 73.24%.

Perhaps this isn’t that surprising – less than a week after the low-key launch of Windows 11, Gartner noted that the arrival of the OS was “expected to have a limited immediate impact for the business market as enterprise-class PCs will likely continue to be available with Windows 10 until 2023”. Gartner predicted that less than 10% of new enterprise PCs will be deployed with Windows 11 by early 2023.

Microsoft remains bullish about the performance of Windows 11. In January, Panay claimed: “[There has been a] 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 we’ve ever shipped.”

“We count our upgrade to Windows 11 as a strong success story”

This is the line the company seems to consistently be running with. When asked for details on Windows 11 in May, Microsoft pointed towards Panay’s blog post from four months earlier, adding: “Beyond that, Microsoft has nothing more to share at this time.” It is curious as to why Microsoft does not appear willing to share more information about how Windows 11 is performing if it is so successful.

It’s worth noting, however, that in a company blog post written in April, Microsoft said it had rolled out Windows 11 to 190,000 devices internally in just five weeks, claiming the upgrade was “largely considered the smoothest we’ve ever had”. It admitted that “a percentage of our devices were not upgraded” because they did not meet the hardware requirements.

“The employees with these devices will continue to run Windows 10 in parallel and get a Windows 11 device at their next device refresh,” Microsoft added.

It’s not easy to work out what that percentage is exactly. According to Microsoft’s website, it has 181,000 employees worldwide, so it has already successfully migrated Windows 11 to more devices than it has workers, but still has other machines running Windows 10.

The company blog post concluded: “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.”

Released too soon?

In terms of wider adoption, it might be worthwhile looking at historical trends for previous versions of Windows. For example, more than 240 million copies of Windows 7 were sold in its first year and 630 million in less than three years. Windows 10 was released in 2015 with a target of one billion devices by 2018, but never really reached that mark. By May 2017, it was running on 500 million active devices and finally accounted for half of all PCs running Windows in April 2019.

It could be argued that Microsoft should have been able to prepare customers for the launch of Windows 11, considering that the vendor didn’t launch the OS until more than six years after its predecessor – the longest gap ever between the release of Windows versions. Yet, it looks as though there is still a long way to go before it reaches its target number. So, can anything be done to improve adoption rates?

Rick Eveleigh, managing consultant at Nasstar, says removing the TPM requirement could help, but that doesn’t seem very likely. “Taking so long to get to Microsoft saying it’s ready for ‘broad development’ doesn’t give confidence that it was released when it was ready,” he adds.

Here, Eveleigh refers to Microsoft’s announcement in May – via the Windows Health Dashboard – that Windows 11 was designated for broad deployment to all users of Windows 10 with eligible hardware. Interestingly, this was communicated in a very low-key way.

Colin Dennis, head of operations at managed service provider OGL Group, believes Windows 11 seems to be a new look to an existing product for many people. “[It’s] a Windows 10+, rather than a radical change,” he says. “Some businesses are holding back at the moment, as they perceive some limitations around it working with older systems. [It’s different in the retail or consumer space] because it offers a more modern look and feel, so why would you not use it?”

Eveleigh says the fact that Windows 10 “still runs perfectly” means any tardiness in the adoption of Windows 11 isn’t a huge problem for channel partners. “I’ve been using Windows 11 since it was in beta,” he says. “While there are no fundamental problems with it, there are also no compelling reasons to upgrade to it – and it’s very unusual for me to make that statement. I’ve been an enthusiastic early adopter for many years and personally championed the early introduction of Windows 8 and Server 2012 to RM Education’s customers.”

“Even if organisations are convinced and want to upgrade devices to make the [OS] upgrade possible, global supply chain issues and chip shortages are not making that easy right now”
Roel Decneut, Lansweeper

Given the findings from Lansweeper’s audit, it’s perhaps not surprising that Lansweeper’s chief strategy officer, Roel Decneut, has no difficulty in stating: “It’s clear that adoption is slower than Microsoft would have liked, and that there is little to do about it right now.”

He singles out the hardware requirements, adding: “Even if organisations are convinced and want to upgrade devices to make the upgrade possible, global supply chain issues and chip shortages are not making that easy right now.”

It also doesn’t help when set against the macro-economic backdrop of inflationary pressure and rumoured recession which, Decneut says, “points towards natural caution and limited spending”, adding: “We’re not likely to see a groundswell of compatible hardware anytime soon.”

In response to the question of what can be done to improve adoption rates, he believes the best solution would be more marketing and advertising. “But also a more aggressive auto-update for compatible Windows 11 devices. However, the general feeling is that Microsoft is well aware that, as hardware is refreshed, the hardware requirement problem will be eliminated before Windows 10 reaches end of life [EOL] in October 2025,” he says.

In any case, if that doesn’t work, Microsoft always has the option of pushing back the EOL date if needed, which is something it has done with previous Windows versions. “It has a plan B in case users and organisations don’t update their devices within the next three-and-a-half years,” Decneut adds.

Securing the IT estate

In the meantime, with Windows 10 widely perceived to be more than up to the job by many organisations – and likely to be so for some time to come – the focus for businesses and their channel partners probably needs to be concentrated on keeping existing IT systems as secure as possible.

As Decneut puts it: “There is nothing more important for organisations than making sure their current IT estate is secure. This means no EOL software, no known exploits and minimising the area of risk. All of that starts by knowing what you have and focusing on plugging the biggest holes.”

To a certain extent, this draws on the strengths of channel partners who have developed expertise on securing Windows 10 systems and infrastructure over the past seven years. There’s a reassurance for customers from dealing with the devil you know, especially one that they and their channel partners have gotten to know so well over the years.

In any case, it’s not as if all of them have a choice when their existing systems can’t run Windows 11, and the present financial conditions and supply chains make it challenging for them to replace devices with newer machines.

For now, it might be some consolation for all concerned that there isn't a surge of people clamouring to install the latest version of Windows. Whatever qualms they might have about the enhanced CPU, storage and TPM requirements, people don’t seem to have been prompted to move any faster to adopt Windows 11 as part of their ongoing Windows strategy.

However pumped Microsoft may have been to launch Windows 11, customers have been a bit more circumspect about installing it so far.

Read more about Windows 11

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