Although Windows 10 isn't set to ship for months, IT executives have been testing the new Microsoft OS, and the thing many of them like the most is clear: It's not Windows 8.
Interviews with a small sample of CIOs who manage 2,000 or more Windows seats suggest that their biggest IT deployment concern — the amount of training required to get users up to speed — has been alleviated by the return of the familiar Windows 7 interface.
"I don't see a steep learning curve for users," says Adam Noble, CIO of New Jersey-based GAF Materials Corp., a Windows 10 beta program participant. "Our goal is zero-based training." Noble says he wants to get users up and running with as little handholding as possible
[Related: What You'll Love and Hate About Windows 10]
A lightweight handoff simply was not possible with the touch-focused Windows 8 or Windows 8.1. "Moving to 8.1 shocked people," says Vince Kellen, senior vice provost for analytics and technology at the University of Kentucky. "Moving to Windows 10 won't." Kellen's team is testing Windows 10, and its early experience hasn't revealed any significant problems.
CIOs' Windows 10 Wish Lists
Running unfinished code is not the same as putting a new OS into production, of course, so smart IT execs are waiting to see a finished product before deciding when and if they'll deploy Windows 10.
In addition to simple training, CIOs say the capability to upgrade users without the need for a clean OS install is high on their wish lists. Strong mobile management and collaboration features, and ISV capability to roll out software applications that are compatible with Windows 10 are also important.
Performing a clean install of a new OS in a business with thousands of users is a large and expensive undertaking. Jacky Wright, Microsoft's vice president for strategic enterprise services, says that won't be a problem with Windows 10. "There is no need for a clean install and we are enabling you to choose going forward what features you want to upgrade," Wright says.
The cloud is increasingly significant for enterprise computing, but some CIOs are concerned about hosting their data and applications remotely, and they don't want to move too fast.
"Ask law firms about putting documents into the cloud and most will say they won't," says Neeraj Rajpal, CIO of Morrison Foerster, a law firm with offices in the United States, Asia and Europe. "I do not want to be pushed into using the cloud."
Cloud concerns aside, Rajpal won't rush his roughly 2,000 users from Windows 7 to Windows 10. "So far I don't see any features that say, ‘Wow, this is amazing.' I need a compelling reason to upgrade, and so far I don't [see one]," he says.
Managing Windows 10 on a Variety of Devices
Some IT managers hope Windows 10 makes it easier to manage a variety of different device types. "I want the same OS on tablets, phones, and PCs," says Scott Angelo, CIO of K&L Gates, a law firm with 48 global offices. "We can't do that with Windows 7."
Microsoft addressed this issue in late September when it first introduced Windows 10. "We're not talking about one UI to rule them all — we're talking about one product family, with a tailored experience for each device," said Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's OS group, at the time of the announcement. "Across this breadth of devices, we are delivering one application platform for our developers."
Myerson says Windows 10 separates corporate and personal data across devices and protects the corporate data wherever it goes, whether it's on a BYOD device or on a managed device within the enterprise. There will be one store and one way for applications to be discovered, purchased and updated across all of these devices, according to Myerson.
If Microsoft's Windows 10 strategy proves effective, the company could see increased adoption rates for its Surface Pro 3 tablet, a device that it says can replace a laptop. Noble, the GAF Materials CIO, says he's been running Windows 10 on his Surface 3 and is so pleased with the experience that he and his team are considering a move to the Surface Pro 3 for its executives. One sticking point, though, is that the Surface Pro 3 does not have a built-in cellular radio.
Apps, Development and Windows 10 Adoption
Angelo and Rajpal both say app compatibility and ease of development are key issues, and they won't seriously consider deploying Windows 10 until they are convinced that their law farms' critical document management applications will run well on the new OS.
"If the apps keep up and correct the challenges associated with Windows 8, we'll get Windows 10 into our environment and see what it takes to create a working image," Angelo says.
Kellen, who manages about 14,000 Windows seats, says he will likely deploy Windows 10 gradually as his department replaces aging PCs. Others IT execs say they're happy with Windows 7, and they're taking a wait-and-see approach.
It's still not clear exactly when Windows 10 will ship, though details are expected in late January, at Microsoft's next preview event in Redmond, Wash. Wright, a leader of Microsoft's internal Windows 10 deployment team, says the company's beta testing is going well and that they're "on schedule."