There's no uncertainty when it comes to measuring Microsoft's level of success with Windows 8 and the enterprise. Microsoft failed to address many issues in Windows 8 before launch for both consumers and businesses, and as a result it has been seen as the company's newest "Vista." Windows 8, even today, still suffers from a lack of uptake, especially in the business world where it is seen as an OS that doesn't address any major business needs (it tried with mobile) but adds complexity, requiring significant training. Will Windows 10 suffer the same lukewarm business reception or is this Microsoft's next home run?
According to Netmarketshare.com, as of October 2014, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 only accounted for roughly 16 percent of global OS market share while Windows 7 accounted for 53 percent, a shockingly high number. In fact, as of October 2014, there were more users using Windows XP than Windows 8 and 8.1. That means that Microsoft has a literal majority of its users still using an OS that is more than five years old, and they very likely have hardware that it somewhere around that age as well. The only exceptions are for businesses that bought new notebooks or tablets and eventually ended up getting some PCs with Windows 8, but those machines likely still are a drop in the bucket compared to all of the non-upgraded desktops and notebooks still out there.
The commercial business cycle generally goes around significant hardware upgrades, but if the OS isn't really what a business is looking for, they will hold off until the next version. We saw this with Windows Vista and Windows 8. As such, many have mused that Windows 8's poor showing contributed to the slowdown of the PC market in 2012 and 2013. Microsoft clearly wants to change this with Windows 10, and they are making a serious effort to lure their commercial customers in with a set of new features for Windows.
Windows 10 Is Streamlined and Efficient for Business
First and foremost, Microsoft is really trying to make Windows a more attractive platform for everyone and with the creation of their new universal apps, businesses should be able to deploy new apps across their entire enterprise. Universal apps, built with Microsoft's latest runtime, will be able to be run on anything from a smartphone, phablet, tablet, notebook, desktop or even a server. Obviously, these applications won't make sense for all, but the idea of having an application with a single development, license and UI for all platforms has to be a huge plus for many large businesses. This could equate to lower training costs, lower support costs and potentially lower app license costs.
Windows 10 also has impeccably low system requirements, ensuring that Windows 10's hardware system requirements are going to be as low as Windows 7's. This may negatively impact the small business hardware upgrade cycle around Windows 10, but it could mean a lot to businesses that simply held off on upgrading their OS or want to do partial hardware upgrades but not full OS upgrades. Part of these low requirements are driven by an efficient kernel and also the implementation of DirectX 12 as part of Windows 10, which is designed to be significantly less intensive on both the CPU and GPU when doing graphical applications.
Microsoft has three major focuses that they are driving for businesses with Windows 10, and they are primarily focused around making the lives of those in IT easier as well as making Windows a more secure OS.
Security and More Security
Microsoft is building two-factor authentication into Windows 10 in order to render data breaches that may compromise a user's password a thing of the past. Originally, two factor authentication was generally enabled with a smart card, another kind of external peripheral like a fingerprint sensor and software separate from the OS. With Windows 10, it's built into the OS and now logging in can be accomplished with a combination of a password with a pin, or some form of biometric data such as a fingerprint, palm or retinal scan.
This would require the hacker to obtain the user's password as well as physical access to the device and with biometric scans, perhaps even the user. Users will be able to enroll one or all of their devices and if they choose to, they can enroll only a mobile device and use that as their mobile second-factor authentication. This can happen with the mobile device as long as it is connected via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and can operate as a mobile smartcard of sorts and provide that second-factor authentication.
Microsoft is trying to avoid token attacks by storing user access tokens in a secure container running on top of Hyper-V technology. In addition to their own secure containers, Microsoft is also enabling easier and more secure development through the support for Docker containers, which have primarily been a Linux-only solution or required a workaround shell from Docker.
More Manageability Choices
Microsoft is adding the ability to add Azure Active Directory for identity and security capabilities so that they can access their business applications and resources on any machine securely. At the same time, they will ensure that Windows 10 will handle Windows Active Directory and Azure Active Directory simultaneously so that users can be logged into cloud applications as well as the local directory simultaneously. This is designed to simplify the experience so that a user can simply login to one directory and gain access to both with a single ID.
Windows 10 will also bring a multitude of mobile device management capabilities from Windows 8.1 which were originally intended for BYOD devices. With Windows 10 mobile devices there will be a lot more power in the administrator's hands to manage corporate-owned devices including managing multiple users, full control of the Windows Store, VPN configurations and full device wipe.
Microsoft is simplifying the deployment process by using in-place upgrades rather than the traditional clean wipe and load approach that most businesses use. This upgrade process is designed to preserve the apps, data and configuration from the previous Windows installation making the transition smooth and seamless. While the largest enterprises typically don't do OS upgrades, smaller ones do and this will save a lot of time and money.
They are also trying to maintain as much backwards compatibility with legacy applications, but we all know that isn't always possible. However, it seems that Microsoft is leading us to believe that Windows 10 will very likely be able to run most if not all apps that can run on Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. This may make hardware upgrades a harder sell based on the new OS alone.
Windows 10 will also be designed to make provisioning a device for use on a network easier than ever before. They are going to accomplish this with new runtime configuration tools which will transform brand new machines into fully configured devices ready for use by the user with minimal configuration needed. Microsoft envisions this new approach to reduce time spent for initial setup and to potentially give users more choice as their IT administrators will likely no longer need to worry about having specific images for certain hardware configurations.
Will It Drive Upgrades?
The age-old question remains the same for Windows 10 as it has for other new operating systems: Will it drive an industry hardware upgrade cycle? There are a few opposing forces at play here. Given all of the very public hacks at places like Sony and Target, the security features alone could motivate businesses to buy new PCs with biometric security capabilities built into the OS. On the other hand, Windows 10 is so efficient that Microsoft says that you can run it well on Windows 7 hardware, so you could get some of the security features without buying new hardware and just upgrading.
I believe that redesigned PCs using the combination of Intel's Skylake and Windows 10 will start the beginning of a new corporate upgrade cycle in 2016. Particularly with newly designed notebooks from Dell, HP and Lenovo, the SkyLake promise of improved performance, better battery life, even thinner designs and "no-cables" will be attractive.
One of the biggest downsides in Windows 10 for businesses is that it doesn't really add any new functionality or usage models for the enterprise over Windows 8. I would have wanted to see some improvements in collaboration, publishing digital content, visualization or even search. While Cortana is new and shiny, I believe that it will be most likely "dumbed down" to the same functionality as Windows Phone to provide a consistent experience instead of truly tapping the performance in a PC platform. The counter to all of this is that enterprises are on Windows 7, not Windows 8, and Windows 10 does add incremental usage models, namely tablet and touch to the equation.
Overall, Windows 10 appears to be far more business focused than Windows 7, it fixes Windows 8 and could likely provide the motivation for businesses, when combined with Intel's SkyLake, to buy new corporate PCs.
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