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Windows 10: your desktop upgrade strategy

Microsoft says Windows 10 allows companies to bring the latest innovation to their existing PC fleet, but how good is the latest version of the operating system really?

The launch of Windows 10 represents a transition for Microsoft under the leadership of its CEO Satya Nadella.

While Windows remains the dominant platform for enterprise applications, consumers have opted instead for Android and iOS devices. Windows 10 aims to bridge this divide by offering the same applications and user experience on tablets, PCs and smartphones. At the same time, Microsoft has been working to make its Office 365 applications suite available on Apple and Android devices as well as PCs, enabling users to work across devices seamlessly.

Forrester principal analyst Frank Gillett said: “Microsoft is now focused on putting its apps and cloud services where its customers are, on Windows PCs plus Android and Apple smartphones. The quarterly financial news won’t show any results yet on Windows 10, but this newest, and last, major upgrade of Windows is Microsoft’s most crucial bet for mobile. Microsoft will have to do better at winning mobile developers on all platforms, not just PCs. That means making great mobile apps for Android and iPhone – an ironic but vital step.”

Gillett expects the new operating system will win over the enterprise, where IT managers have needed to make major workarounds to get iPads and Android tablets working with PC-based Windows applications. But he warned: “The plans for Windows 10 don’t show enough potential to create a differentiated mobile experience that will draw developers and customers away from iOS and Android.”

Enterprise features

One of the big changes that Microsoft has made with version 10 is to unify the desktop, mobile and smartphone user experiences. 

Helen Lamb, executive director of managed infrastructure services for UK & Ireland at Fujitsu, said: “Within the modern workplace we are seeing the longstanding boundaries of corporate IT being continuously tested. This is a transformational time for businesses, and with Windows 10 we are making  move towards a true, always on, mobile workplace.”

From a security perspective, the biggest change is the new browser, Edge. 

Steven Allen, senior security consultant at Capgemini, said: “Windows 10 has added better support for multifactor authentication such as biometrics, improved file-level encryption to protect personal or corporate data, and improved trusted applications to control where users can install applications from. These are welcome improvements and, while corporate users stand to gain the most, home users will also benefit. 

“Perhaps the most significant security improvement is Microsoft replacing Internet Explorer with a new browser, Edge. This is good news for the user community as IE has unfortunately been quite buggy and a target for exploitation by criminals to attack users as they shop or bank online.”

But the OS also ships with Internet Explorer, and those applications in the enterprise that rely on IE could provide an attack vector for hackers.

Find out more about Windows 10

Related to security is the way that Windows will be updated going forward. Updates of the OS will be continuous from version 10 on. Businesses can opt for the so-called long-term service branch or Update for Business, which is designed to offer new functionality quicker. 

Delphix director of strategy Jes Breslaw said: “By taking the branch option, cautious organisations will largely fail to benefit from the huge investment Microsoft is making in innovation. Enterprises should be moving their own Windows applications to continuous delivery, and, through their own continuous integration and testing, ensure updates are successful. This requires development and testing environments that can be provisioned at speed, and with quality data. 

“The likes of Apple and Android OS are already steaming ahead with a continuous delivery model. Organisations need to accept Microsoft’s latest change and jump in with both feet to avoid missing the boat.”

Upgrading

Businesses are unlikely to deploy Windows 10 quickly. A survey of 183 attendees of the Microsoft Ignite conference in May conducted by Microsoft gold partner Adaptiva found that most businesses expect to update Windows within a year. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (71%) said their company was planning to wait more than six months to deploy Windows 10.

While Windows 10 is being distributed as a free upgrade for existing PCs, in an article posted on the Seeking Alpha financial blogging site, Bob O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst of Technalysis Research, said he believed that the new operating system would boost the PC industry. 

“Microsoft has actually integrated quite a few new capabilities into Windows 10 that will benefit from new hardware,” he said. 

The new features include: biometric authentication, which requires a fingerprint reader or Intel’s RealSense for facial recognition; the array microphones used by Cortana, which O’Donnell said improves the accuracy of speech recognition; and Continuum. According to O’Donnell, Continuum features will make two-in-one devices like Microsoft’s Surface, Dell’s Inspiron 7000 Series, HP’s x360 and Lenovo’s Yoga more compelling.

Organisations on a three to four-year PC refresh cycle may well be considering upgrading hardware. From an desktop IT point of view, a modern two-in-one device that works both as a traditional laptop and a tablet reflects the modern workplace.

Windows is not going away and while enterprise applications are increasingly available as cloud-based SaaS offerings, corporate IT departments will still need to support many line-of-business Windows applications. In the past IT may have needed to compromise by streaming these enterprise Windows applications to iPads and Android tablets. But modern hybrid devices are light and fully functional Windows PCs. And as O’Donnell points out, a hybrid device running Windows 10 makes a lot of sense in an enterprise desktop strategy.

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One of the things I'm having a hard time understanding is why Edge is a significantly more secure browser than IE. That is to say, if they were capable of creating a secure browser this whole time, why is IE so vulnerable? If IE is the primary example of their ability to create a browser, why should be trust that Edge is better?
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Looks like MS has reworked how the browser handles memory allocation and garbage collection - to reduce attack surface area. Here's an explanation from Trend Micro: http://blog.trendmicro.com/trendlabs-security-intelligence/windows-10-sharpens-browser-security-with-microsoft-edge/
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