Microsoft's rollout of Windows 10 gets B+ grade

General vibe of the new OS remains positive, say analysts

windows 10 upgrade notification
Credit: MIcrosoft

Microsoft has done a good job rolling out Windows 10 in the first two weeks, analysts said today, and the general vibe for Windows 8's replacement has been positive, even though glitches have dampened some enthusiasm.

"If I had to give Microsoft a letter grade, it would be a B or a B+," said Steve Kleynhans of Gartner. "It's not an A because it hasn't gone perfectly. They've stubbed their toe over privacy issues, for example."

Microsoft began serving up the free Windows 10 upgrade late on July 28, giving participants in the firm's Insider preview program first shot at the production code. It then slowly began triggering upgrade notices on Windows 7 and 8.1 machines whose owners had earlier "reserved" copies through an on-device app planted on their devices this spring.

The Redmond, Wash. company has said little of the rollout's performance other than to tout that 14 million systems were running Windows 10 within 24 hours of its debut.

Estimates based on user share data from U.S. analytics company Net Applications, however, suggests that by Aug. 8, some 45 million PCs were powered by Windows 10.

Analysts largely applauded the launch. "As far as the roll-out, it's not any worse than any other Windows," said Kleynhans. "But it's all happening at this compressed timetable.

"And social media now amplifies any problems," he continued, much more so than three years ago when Windows 8 released, much less in 2009, when Microsoft last had a hit on its hands.

Others were more bullish on Microsoft's performance. "Windows 10's go-to-market was really quite good," said Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that specializes in tracking the company's moves.

Miller was especially impressed with Microsoft's ability to make customers covet the upgrade. "Something Microsoft has not always done a great job of is creating a sense of exclusivity," said Miller. "But they're withholding [the upgrade] just enough that there's a sense of excitement. People are saying, 'I want it, I'm not getting the upgrade yet.' Arguably, that exactly what Microsoft wants."

Windows 10's rollout has departed from those of past editions in significant ways.

Historically, Microsoft released a new Windows to its OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners first, who were given months to prepare new devices pre-loaded with the operating system. Only when the computer makers were ready did Microsoft deliver paid upgrades to customers who wanted to refresh their current hardware. Relatively few users paid for the upgrades; most preferred to purchase a new PC with the new OS already installed.

This cycle, Microsoft gave away the Windows 10 upgrade to hundreds of millions of customers -- those running a Home or Pro/Professional edition of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 -- to jumpstart the new OS's adoption. With some exceptions, the upgrade hit before OEMs had prepared new devices or seeded them to retail.

Because of the large number of customers eligible for the free upgrade, Microsoft announced it would distribute the code in several waves that would take weeks (according to Microsoft) or months (the consensus of analysts) to complete. While some had predicted that the upgrade's massive audience would stress the delivery system Microsoft had built, or even affect the Internet at large, neither happened.

The "Get Windows 10" app -- which was silently placed on PCs beginning in March -- not only served as a way to queue customers for the upgrade, but also ran compatibility checks to ensure the hardware and software would support the new operating system, another slick move by Microsoft.

"Microsoft rolled out Windows 10 to the audience that would be most receptive," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, referring to the Insiders-get-it-first tactic. "Then they rolled it out to those who weren't Insiders, but who had expressed a desire to get the upgrade. And only those [whose devices] passed all of its tests got it. That was a smart thing to do."

The latter was designed to limit upgrade snafus, something Microsoft has chiefly, although not entirely, accomplished. "While the rollout was pretty clean, there have been glitchy issues here and there," said Kleynhans, who cited post-Windows-10-upgrade updates that crippled some consumers' machines.

Moorhead echoed that, highlighting the out-the-gate problem many had keeping Nvidia's graphic drivers up-to-date as Microsoft's and Nvidia's update services tussled over which got to install a driver. "Problems have been more anecdotal than system-wide," Moorhead said. "And they seem to get remedied very quickly."

The bungles haven't been widespread enough to taint the generally favorable impression of Windows 10 generated by social media, news reports and Microsoft's PR machine, the analysts argued.

"Overall, I'd say Windows 10 has received a much more positive reception than other [editions of] Windows," said Moorhead, who said the reaction was justified, since the developing consensus is that Windows 10 is a big improvement over its flop-of-a-predecessor, Windows 8.

"The vibe is positive, but it's much more about consumers now than businesses," said Directions' Miller. Enterprises, he said, will take a wait-and-see approach -- as they always do -- before jumping onto Windows 10, as they must if they're to stick with Microsoft, a given since there isn't a viable alternative.

A credible reaction from corporate customers, Miller continued, won't be visible until Microsoft finishes unveiling its update tracks, called "branches," particularly the "Long-term servicing branch" (LTSB). That branch will mimic the traditional servicing model where new features and functionality will be blocked from reaching systems that businesses don't want to see constantly changing.

"People are liking what they are getting out of the other end" of the upgrade, added Kleynhans. "From what I've heard, they're happy, surprisingly happy, and generally pretty positive about the OS. But I'd expect the new shine to wear off after the first couple of weeks."

This story, "Microsoft's rollout of Windows 10 gets B+ grade" was originally published by Computerworld.

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