With the launch of Windows 10 due this week, Microsoft has promised to renew its focus on the enterprise and recover its credibility with businesses following the disaster of Windows 8.
Microsoft is positioning Windows 10 as more than just another OS update. It aims to usher in a 'new generation' of end-user computing with a unified experience across multiple device types - whether on a four inch smartphone or 80 inch conference room displays.
New features announced in recent months, such as the return of the Start menu, are likely to win over end-users, while security and management tools will chime with IT staff.
So should businesses get onboard when Windows 10 Enterprise launches on 1 August? Can Microsoft reach its goal of one billion Windows 10 devices in the next two to three years?
The operating system has been well-received, so far at least. A recent survey of IT execs revealed that 73 percent expect to deploy the software in the next two years.
"Windows was 7 about improving enterprise management and security," says Forrester Research analyst, David Johnson. "Windows 8 was about keeping Microsoft in the tablet game, and Windows 10 is about continuing the prominence of the Windows desktop in the enterprise. And I think it will succeed with that."
Yet Microsoft still faces a battle in wooing large businesses with Windows 10. Despite the new functionality and enhancements such as its universal apps, encouraging businesses to make the move in the first year of launch will be a challenge. While the Windows 10 consumer proposition is clear, "most CIOs will need more convincing before upgrading their organisations' PCs", write Gartner analysts Stephen Kleynhans and Michael Silver in a research note.
A lot has changed since the last time Microsoft gained a wide audience, with the launch of Windows 7 six years ago. Talk of the potential demise of Windows spread after Windows 8 failed to win over businesses. At the same time, the influx of mobile devices in business settings has opened the door for Apple and Google to push their way into the enterprise.
And for those that are keen on rolling out Windows 10, either now or in the future, they face a major project. There are a number of considerations - migrating thousands of PCs is a big deal for any large business, and will require significant planning and investment, something budget-sensitive companies will have at the front of their mind.
Why businesses should take Windows 10 seriously
First, let's take a look at why Microsoft 10 has been garnering admiring glances in the run-up to launch week...
Windows 10: It isn't Windows 8
A big draw for businesses from an end-user perspective is that Windows 10 attempts to right some of the wrongs of its predecessor.
This is most evident with the user interface. Microsoft has clearly gone back to the much-loved Windows 7 for inspiration. While there are some modern touches and nods to Windows 8, the desktop will be much more familiar to most users. Gone are the full-screen apps and touch-optimised 'Live Tiles' of Windows 8 - forced on users regardless of whether they were using a tablet or not - and instead we have the return of the Start button, plus resizable Windows Store apps which behave more like traditional Windows applications.
Microsoft appears to be doing a good job of targeting everyday use on desktops, as well as providing the same experience across multiple devices.
Although not a reason to upgrade in themselves, these features will be welcomed by users, while the familiarity will smooth the transition for IT support staff.
"Employee engagement is super-important to organisations: happy chickens lay more eggs," says Ovum analyst Richard Edwards. "Productivity is linked with how happy your employees are, and the end-user computing environment is an important factor in that."
Other features include a revamped Internet Explorer -- renamed Edge, an enhanced search function, while the Cortana personal assistant makes an appearance on the desktop for the first time.
Windows 10: Improved security and management
But the biggest news for IT staff are the improvements around security and management.
New identity management capabilities will be provided with Windows 10 offering Active Directory access via the Azure cloud. This will reduce reliance on additional passwords when moving between desktop accounts and cloud services such as Office 365 and the Windows Store.
Managing mobile will be easier too: with the universal app model, Microsoft wants to support Windows 10 being deployed on the variety of mobile devices.
With this in mind it has beefed up its mobile device management (MDM) capabilities, building on the bring your own device features of Windows 8 to also manage corporate-owned devices. It also means "supporting Enterprise Data Protection policies, support for managing multiple users, full control over the Windows Store, VPN configuration, full device wipe capabilities" according to Microsoft.
New features are likely to be announced in coming months too.
Security has also been high on the agenda. Forrester's David Johnson says: "Microsoft is fundamentally improving security at the OS and hardware level. It has done a really good job implementing all the security features that companies like Intel can provide."
For example, Windows Hello will offer biometric authentication, two-step authentication with Passport, while Device Guard will improve defences against Advanced Persistent Threats.
Windows 10: Release and update cycle - Windows as a service
Aside from the new functionality of Windows 10, perhaps the biggest change for businesses is the upgrade cycle. There is an expectation that this will be Microsoft's last full OS release, moving to an incremental rollout framework, which the vendor has referred to as 'Windows-as-a-service'.
"This move is mostly a response to new market realities," Gartner's Kleynhans and Silver write. "Microsoft is the only remaining vendor that directly tries to monetise a client device OS.
"Users have become conditioned to seeing the OS as part of the device, and something that should just get updated for the life of that device. Microsoft's approach of charging for upgrades has seemed out of step."
Windows 10 Enterprise will be released slightly later than the Home and Pro releases: 1 August rather than 29 July.
And unlike consumer and small businesses versions of the operating system, which will offer free updates for the first year, enterprises will continue to pay for Enterprise licences and Software Assurance support. In return, larger businesses will have the choice of how and when updates will be deployed, rather than automatically accepting them.
"Businesses will be able to opt-in to the fast-moving consumer pace, or lock-down mission critical environments to receive only security and critical updates to their systems," Microsoft says.
Although the changes to the update model could be a challenge for IT departments, it helps enterprises avoid falling behind with software versions. Using the continuous delivery model, code will be updated on a regular basis, meaning users will always have the latest version of the operating system - Microsoft's ultimate goal with Windows 10.
The changing upgrade cycle will be a plus for most organisations, says Forrester's David Johnson.
"It is an opportunity for [businesses] to develop a habit of always being up to date as Microsoft releases operating system versions on a more frequent cycle. When you are on the latest technology you can always be more agile."
Windows 10: Enterprise challenges
While it is a case of if rather than when organisations move to Windows 10, migration is a significant project for many.
Windows 10: Migration to new operating system
Microsoft has attempted to reduce the strain of rolling out Windows 10 - see here for more information on how to do this. But introducing the operating system across a large organisation is always going to be a tricky job. And costly too, whether it means updating existing systems or migrating as part of a hardware refresh, although Microsoft has made efforts to make sure the operating system works on older PCs too.
Gartner's Kleynhans and Michael Silver point out: "Even if the upgrade is free, organisations must be aware that the cost of migration is about much more than the OS license".
The average cost for upgrading from XP was $1,000, according to Forrester. While it is likely to be less to move to Windows 10, this could still be a significant investment for any large business.
"What we learned in the Windows XP to 7 migration process was that the application compatibility process and actually doing the application migrations and updates was the most expensive part," says Forrester's David Johnson.
"I expect it will be significantly less costly than Windows XP and 7 migration. But it will still be costly."
Costs for training staff should also be factored in, particularly for those moving from Windows 8.
"There is still going to be some confusion from the end-user community in some scenarios, even though the Windows desktop mode is similar to what they are familiar with, there still will be enough differences to throw some users off," says Johnson. "So there will be a training cycle involved in most cases with companies."
Of course, organisations shouldn't wait too long before upgrading, at least not without other firm plans in place. The deadline for Windows 7 support is 14 January 2020. This might seem far off, but the migration process can often take 18 months, meaning that the cut-off point is closer than many might imagine.
"An OS migration is a huge undertaking. Organisations often underestimate the planning phases for major IT initiatives," says Heat Software senior product manager, Mareike Fondufe.
"The largest concern is the legacy infrastructure, which can cause critical compatibility issues due to its age and resulting complexity and results in the need for automatic methods to migrate and manage an operating system.
Moving legacy applications can also be troublesome for many organisations. "Microsoft is promising very high compatibility with Windows 7, but organisations must still plan and budget for a substantial effort involved with compatibility of key applications and potentially costly remediation or upgrades that may be required, especially for Internet Explorer specific applications."
Windows 10: New options and alternatives
Another question for businesses is whether they want to upgrade to Windows 10 at all.
In the years since the release of Windows 7 it has become clear that Microsoft is no longer the only game in town. Apple is continuing to gain a foothold in the enterprise at the top-end, while Chromebooks have offered a cost-effective alternative to Windows, with growing adoption, particularly in verticals such as education. Adoption of cloud services such as Google Apps has spurred sales of five million devices in the US.
Forrester's David Johnson says: "It will have an impact, particularly in cash-strapped organisations where we see Chrome OS and Chromebooks gaining ground - education, healthcare - where they just don't want to spend the money to manage a full Windows instance and the other costs that go with it."
"If you look at something like Chrome OS and if they can get by completely with a browser-based set out of applications, like a Google Apps ecosystem for example, then they will find that to be attractive."
In the short term, it is unlikely that many will ditch Windows entirely for another platform. Many businesses are too heavily invested in the Microsoft's operating system to drop it completely, and its Office software apps remain popular productivity tools.
"There are bound to be some [looking for alternatives," says Quocirca's Clive Longbottom, "but it will be a very small minority."
"Most organisations still have a dependency on Windows - even if they decide to go for alternative access devices, they will probably go for a VDI approach at the back end, or still use Microsoft 365 and other Azure-based functionality."
So is it worth upgrading to Windows 10?
For most businesses, Windows 10 looks like a viable proposition. It addresses many of the mistakes and missteps of Windows 8, returning the familiarity of Windows 7 with added security and a modern interface optimised for multiple devices used in the workplace.
It is likely that many businesses will avoid rushing into Windows 10 deployments. The return to a similar layout and functionality to Windows 7 has its benefits - and has been well-received by those testing out the Technical Preview - it could also slow adoption of Windows 10.
For those who completed the - often tricky - upgrade to Windows 7, there is little in Windows 10 at this stage, other than a few new features, that will encourage a major upgrade project.
"Windows 7 is a great operating system and there will be a lot of companies who don't have the money and the resources to upgrade to Windows 10 right now. So we will still have that lag," says Forrester's David Johnson.
"Windows 10 doesn't really eliminate any pain that they have with Windows 7, and Windows 7 is working fine, other than improving security. "
But while -- as with any newly launched software -- it might make sense for organisations to wait until bugs are fixed and other problems to be fixed, Johnson says he is confident Windows 10 will be "adopted as an enterprise IT standard".
"If there is a 'version 10.1' it may be wise to start your testing at 10 and then when 10.1 comes along, decide to make the upgrade happen then," says Johnson.
"They have to deliver things that significantly improve enterprise manageability and security, deliver things that employees will find indispensable to make their normal routine easier, and they also have to provide things that make it easier for developers to develop for Windows 10 and migrate other apps to the Windows platform.
"They seem to be addressing critical things on each of those fronts so that is why I am more bullish on Windows 10 than I was on Windows 8."
This story, "Windows 10: Pros and cons for enterprise - why your business should move to Windows 10" was originally published by Computerworld UK.