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Microsoft has released its Windows 10 Anniversary Update, its first big feature update since its launch in 2015

Windows 10 Anniversary Update

2 August marks one year since the launch of Microsoft's latest OS, Windows 10. The anniversary update will focus on greater Ink and Cortana capabilities, tougher security measures and a promise of a feature-rich update each year.

And while its free upgrade offer came to an end for the general public last Friday (29 July), Microsoft will still offer the free upgrade to 'customers who use assistive technologies'. 

Recent announcements

According to Spiceworks' latest network data, 39 percent of EMEA organisations have adopted Microsoft Windows 10 since its launch in July 2015, with the highest rate of adoption from companies with more than 250 employees. 

The study also surmised that software, manufacturing and energy industries have seen the highest adoption rates with 63 percent of IT professionals crediting the free upgrade as the biggest driver for implementation. Read the report here.

What's more, earlier this year at its Build conference in San Francisco, Microsoft revealed that there are now 270 million active Windows 10 devices in use. The company previously set a target of 1 billion users by 2018.

Microsoft announced a range of new features designed to target businesses, including “enterprise-grade” Windows Hello biometric security for Apps and Edge; the ability to extend legacy Win32 and .NET applications into the Windows app store; and the availability of the Bash shell, the command line tool typically used with Linux.

Microsoft also highlighted new apps coming to the Universal Windows Platform, with Sage due to launch its accounting software.

In Last year's launch of Windows 10, Microsoft promised to renew its focus on the enterprise and recover its credibility following the disaster of Windows 8.

Windows 10 is positioned as more than just another operating system 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 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 be getting onboard with Windows 10? And can Microsoft reach its goal of one billion Windows 10 devices in the next two to three years?

Windows 10 for business

On November 12th 2015 Microsoft released its first major Windows 10 update, with a number of new features aimed specifically at aiding IT staff deploying and managing the software.

"With this free update we have reached the point in the platform’s maturity where we can confidently recommend Windows 10 deployment to whole organisations," Terry Myerson, the head of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, wrote in a blog post. 

The Windows Update for Business offers IT pros greater control over the deployment of updates within their organisation, helping keep devices up to date and secure. It will be possible to set up device groups to help stagger deployments of the operating system.

Meanwhile, Windows Store for Business provides an easier way for IT to manage apps, whether they are from the Windows Store or built in-house.

Microsoft said it is working on enterprise data protection to protect corporate data by separating it from employee data. The service is currently being tested with some of its enterprise customers and will be available to Windows Insiders soon.

Windows 10 business users are also now able to turn off telemetry data, should they wish.

Windows 10 for business: Enterprise adoption 

Enterprise uptake has been strong so far. On 6 January 2016 Microsoft that more than 76 percent of enterprise customers are using Windows 10 in 'active pilot' projects, with over 22 million enterprise devices currently running on the new operating system.

In a blog post Microsoft says that Windows 10 uptake is outpacing the popular Windows 7 by nearly 140 percent and Windows 8 by nearly 400 percent.

survey of Spiceworks' community of IT professionals, which considers business adoption in more detail - shows that Windows 10 penetration already stands at 11 percent. 

It has been businesses at the larger end of the scale which have been more likely to invest in licences, compared to SMBs.

Most industry commentators were positive about the Windows 10 release. “Windows 7 was 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.”

Windows 10 for business: Benefits - 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 for business: Improved security and management

The biggest improvements for IT staff are around security and management and with the Windows 10 anniversary update said to provide customers with tougher security measures, Windows 10 could become even more attractive to larger enterprises.

What's more, 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.

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 for business: 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.”

Unlike consumer and small businesses versions of the operating system, which will offer free updates for the first year, large businesses 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 for business: Migration to new operating system

While it is a case of if rather than when organisations move to Windows 10, migration is a significant project for many.

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 for business: New options and alternatives to consider

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.”

Windows 10 for business: Verdict

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.

He added: “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.”