Windows 10 for business: Pros and cons for enterprise users

Windows 10 launched in July and has now received its first major update. © Microsoft
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 April, with the launch of version 1803. 

Microsoft releases new versions of the operating system biannually, and the latest update has improved upon the previous 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

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 Satya Nadella claimed at the company's annual shareholder meeting in November 2017.

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 in the user interface, with Microsoft clearly returning to the much-loved Windows 7 for inspiration. While there are some modern touches and nods to Windows 8, the desktop will be appear 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 resizeable Windows Store apps which behave more like traditional Windows applications.

Microsoft appears to be doing a good job of targeting everyday users on desktops, as well as delivering the same experience across multiple devices.

The new features were largely welcomed by users, while the familiarity of the latest version smoothed over 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 made the transition 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.

In the latest version of Windows 10, this morphed into the more succinct 'Timeline' feature (the hotly anticipated no-show for the Fall update), allowing you to easily skim through files and documents to find the one you were last working on. With this feature, you can easily scroll back in time and locate things. The new task bar lets you see which activities you were doing at a specific time on both Microsoft Edge and Office 365.

With the Fall update, OneDrive users were given the ability to save on local storage space with a new Files On-Demand feature, which meant they could select and download files from the cloud only when needed, without having to store them locally. The 1803 version, too, allows you to save files to your preferred cloud, such as (ideally for Microsoft) OneDrive. This means that you don't have to sync full files and folders to a device in order to retrieve them - a feature similar to Dropbox's Smart Sync.

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. With the latest update, too, there is a focus on security, with Windows Defender Application Guard debuting on Windows 10 Professional, as well as Windows 10 Enterprise users, ensuring their systems are protected from advanced browser attacks. 

Microsoft has leveraged its huge data pool and applied 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 the Windows Server.

Windows 10 users can also access a range of identity management features, including Active Directory access via the Azure cloud. This reduces 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.

Windows Hello also offers biometric authentication, two-step authentication with Passport and Device Guard to improve defences against Advanced Persistent Threats. Since the April 2018 update, setting up Windows Hello is easier than ever as it can accessed from the lock screen - no need to access the settings app. 

For particularly security conscious users, 'Windows in S mode' can be accessed on Windows 10 Home and Pro PCs, and Windows 10 Enterprise. This mode means that all of your applications are verified by Microsoft, performance is speedy and web-browsing is limited to Microsoft Edge, meaning malware cannot run on your device.  

Pros: Improved privacy and transparency

Microsoft has also been working to broaden its privacy controls of late, and users can access information about the data being collected on them by apps, as well as direct access to the Privacy Statement during the setup process. There is also a 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 are 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, ahead of the Fall update, 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 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 business 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. Costs for training staff should also be factored in, particularly for those moving from Windows 8.

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

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.

Windows have said that there will be no 'Windows 11', so the next update will still come under the Windows 10 umbrella. 

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.

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