Windows 10 for business: Pros and cons for enterprise users

Windows 10 Start menu credit Microsoft x800
Windows 10 launched in July and has now received its first major update. © Microsoft

Here's what enterprise users will love and hate about the latest upgrades to the Windows 10 Fall Update

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Microsoft made a major update to Windows 10 in March with the launch of the Windows Machine Learning (WinML) platform.

WinML is designed to help Windows developers to use Microsoft AI and machine learning technology more easily for their apps and features.

The platform enhances the latest version of Windows 10, the Fall Creators Update, which was launched in October 2017. 

Read next: Windows 10 Fall Creators Update: Features, updates and release date

Microsoft releases new versions of the operating system twice a year, and the next one is expected to arrive in spring.

Here are some of the biggest pros and cons of the latest version of Windows 10 for enterprise end users and IT admins.

Windows 10 uptake

In January 2018, Windows 10 overtook the market share of Windows 7 for the first time, according to web analytics company Statcounter.

The research found that Windows 10 had reached 42.78 percent of worldwide internet usage compared to 41.86 percent for its predecessor.

More than 600 million active devices now use the operating system, Microsoft CEO claimed Satya Nadella at the company's annual shareholder meeting in November 2017.

Microsoft CEO CEO Satya Nadella had claimed at the company's annual shareholder meeting in November 2017 that more than 600 million active devices were now using the operating system. The company had previously set a target of 1 billion users by 2018.

The exact contribution of enterprise users to the figures is unclear, but they would likely have played a big role. Most consumers are purchasing ever fewer numbers of new PCs and they tend to upgrade before the main free upgrade offers expires, which happened for Windows 10 in July 2016.

Enterprise uptake also started strong. In January 2016, Microsoft said that more than 76 percent of enterprise customers were using Windows 10 in 'active pilot' projects, with over 22 million enterprise devices running on the new operating system at that time.

Pros: It isn't Windows 8

Windows 10 is positioned as more than just another operating system update. It was designed 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 display. New features such as the return of the Start menu were always likely to win over end users, while security and management tools will chime with IT staff.

A big draw for businesses from an end-user perspective is that Windows 10 attempts to right some of the wrongs of its predecessor, the much-reviled Windows 8.

This is most evident with the user interface. Microsoft clearly went back to the much-loved Windows 7 for inspiration. While there are some modern touches and nods to Windows 8, the desktop is 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 in their place is 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.

The new features were largely welcomed by users, while the familiarity helped smooth the transition for IT support staff.

Other features include a revamped Internet Explorer now known as Edge and an enhanced search function, while the Cortana personal assistant has moved over to the desktop for the first time.

Pros: Latest features

The latest version of Windows 10, the Fall Creators Update, included a whole host of features that promised to boost user productivity, as well as making the lives of IT admins easier.

One welcomed by many mobile workers was 'Pick Up Where I Left Off'. This does exactly what it says on the tin, in that users will be able to pick up a piece of work when switching device. For example, if you are working on a document on the train into the office and are synced then you can pick that document up at the same point as soon as you log into your work desktop.

OneDrive users were given the ability to save on local storage space with a new Files On-Demand feature, which means they can select and download files from the cloud only when they are needed, without the need to store them locally. This means that it doesn't need to sync full files and folders to a device in order to retrieve them. This is a similar feature to Dropbox's Smart Sync.

Not all of the update lived up to expectations. A new feature called Timeline that would provide users with a dashboard for work log and show them the apps and windows they currently have open and were recently working on had been highly anticipated but never emerged.

According to Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, who heads up the Operating Systems Group at Microsoft, Timeline was never promised for the Fall Creators Update, but will appear in Insider Preview builds of Windows 10 in the near future.

The recent release of WinML enhanced the operating system for developers. They can use the API to add pre-trained machine learning models in Windows 10 to their apps, and reduce latency by leveraging the local processing capabilities of their PC.

Pros: Improved security and management

The biggest improvements for IT staff in the Windows 10 Fall Update were around security and management, including an upgrade to Windows Defender.

Microsoft is leveraging its huge data pool and applying AI techniques - which it calls the Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph - to detect and remove malware before it has a chance to get into your network or system. This is called Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) and works across devices, as well as on Windows Server now.

Windows 10 users can also access a new range of identity management offerings, including 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, reducing friction for users moving across multiple devices.

For example, multi-factor authentication (MFA) is the best way to keep employees mobile devices safe, but users hate it. Now IT can set risk thresholds to only demand MFA when the login is coming from an unusual location, for example.

There is also a new Security Analytics capability to allow IT to analyse their Windows security features, configurations and patch status across endpoints.

Windows Hello also now offers biometric authentication, two-step authentication with Passport and Device Guard to improve defences against Advanced Persistent Threats.

Managing mobile was also made easier through Microsoft's Enterprise Mobility and Security (EMS) solution, which has been built to incorporate all of Microsoft Intune, Azure Active Directory, Azure Information Protection, Microsoft Cloud App Security and Advanced Threat Analytics under one roof for enterprise mobility management.

EMS builds 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 and full device wipe capabilities," to keep corporate data secure, according to Microsoft.

Pros: Improved privacy and transparency

Microsoft has also broadened its privacy controls for consumer and enterprise users in the Fall Update ahead of the GDPR implementation date of 25 May 2018.

Users can now get access to information about the data being collected by apps, as well as direct access to the Privacy Statement during the setup process. There is also a new Learn More page on the privacy settings screen, enabling users to jump to specific settings for location, speech recognition, diagnostics, tailored experiences, and ads.

Users will also be prompted when apps purchased through the Windows Store want to access key device capabilities or information such as your camera, microphone, contacts, location, and calendar.

In a blog post, Microsoft privacy officer Marisa Rogers wrote: "Enterprise customers asked us to provide them with greater control over which data is shared with us to enable new services."

This includes new settings to limit diagnostic data to the minimum required for Windows Analytics. Admins may also decrease IT costs by gaining insights, using Windows Diagnostics, into the computers running Windows 10 in their organisations.

Pros: Release and update cycle - Windows-as-a-service

Aside from the new functionality of Windows 10, perhaps the biggest change for businesses was 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," was how Gartner's Kleynhans and Silver described it. "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, they 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," said Microsoft's corporate vice president Jim Alkove.

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.

Cons: Migrating to new operating system

Migration to a new operating project is often a challenging project.

Microsoft has attempted to reduce the strain of rolling out Windows 10. But introducing the operating system across a large organisation is always going to be a tricky and costly job.

Read next: How to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 10 - upgrade your business PCs the easy way OR How to block the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

Costs for training staff should also be factored in, particularly for those moving from Windows 8.

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.

Then when you consider the chaos the WannaCry ransomware attack caused after targeting vulnerabilities in Windows XP, customers may want to get onto the latest version of the OS sooner rather than later.

Verdict

For most businesses, Windows 10 looks like a viable proposition.

For the end user, it addresses many of the mistakes and missteps of Windows 8, returning to the familiarity of Windows 7 but with added security and a modern interface optimised for greater mobility across multiple devices used in the workplace.

For IT the security and identity management options are far more robust, and with greater intelligence baked in threats should be flagged and dealt with earlier than before. Add in the improved transparency and analytics, and Windows 10 should be a winner for both sides.