The Window 10 technical preview continues to chug along, and while we don't have an official release date for the finished software, it's widely assumed that it will appear before the end of 2015. What milestones can we expect along the way, how can businesses begin planning to make the shift, and what traps should they avoid?
Gartner analyst Michael Silver offered a wide-ranging discussion of the future of Windows during a presentation at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Melbourne. "Microsoft we think has been in trouble for a little while on the client and Office side, though their revenues don't really show it," Silver said. "Windows 8 was not MS's shining moment, and certainly they need to recover from that."
"Windows 8 was a bit of a problem for Microsoft, though the problems with Windows 8 were a lot different than the problems with Vista. Windows 8 wasn't unstable, it was just misconceived — Microsoft was just a little bit arrogant. It made customers feel stupid because they couldn't work it any more."
Users have stuck with Windows because of legacy applications and familiarity, but that's not helpful to Microsoft when it tries to persuade companies to migrate to newer versions. "Legacy is their best benefit and their worst enemy," Silver said. "It keeps people locked in but it also keeps people from upgrading."
As a result, Silver is predicting a range of strategies to persuade people to update to Windows 10. We already know Microsoft is offering free licences for hardware manufacturers producing low-cost options. That may also extend to upgrades for consumers — but Silver is predicting that won't apply to enterprise users of Windows 10. "We think they'll give you free upgrades to some extent. My guess is Windows Home will be free, Windows Professional maybe, Windows Enterprise definitely not."
Surprisingly, Silver also suspects we haven't seen the last of Windows RT, the cut-down version of Windows which only runs "modern" apps and which has largely been restricted to the non-Pro models of Microsoft's Surface tablet. "You will likely see some sort of a tablet device with the core services layers that just runs the universal apps. It won't run that half-baked Windows legacy subsystem because they had to run Office that way. You may very well end up with a tablet that looks like a Windows RT device." (Running Office is no longer an issue as Microsoft is planning a Modern version of that, and customers can also sign in via the browser.)
In the long term, most businesses can expect to be using subscription-based services such as Office 365 (and its rivals), an approach which may also influence how Windows is licensed. "If you're not paying subscriptions today to Microsoft, be warned: over the next 5-8 years, you will be. This is inevitable."
Silver suggests that we won't see a consumer previews of Windows 10 until early next year, as releasing it any earlier would further flatten PC sales. His guess is that the main release will be available by the end of 2016.
The other major change that is likely is a shift to how updates are rolled out. Microsoft automatically updates consumer PCs (and Office 365), but that doesn't work in larger enterprises, which need to ensure apps are compatible. The change is likely to be to a two-tiered cadence: consumers are continually updated, but enterprise users have a stable "long term servicing" release which only sees urgent security patches, with other updates rolled in at a more leisurely pace. "Consumers will continue to be given monthly updates, but these may be business-optional," Silver said.
Eventually, that pace might speed up. "Currently, there are two years after a release before enterprise adopts it. Microsoft is trying to change that, but it won't happen in the Windows 10 time frame."
Silver also points out a lurking trap: it's only four years until support for Windows 7 finishes (in January 2020). Companies which have shifted to Windows 7 but avoided 8 may find themselves having to move to Windows 10. "There will be two years between Windows 10 rolling out and Windows 7 end of life," Silver pointed out. "All your Win32 apps should work. That doesn't mean your vendors are going to support them running on Windows 10."
The biggest issue is apps that rely on being delivered via Internet Explorer. "As of January 2016, IE 11 will be the only supported version You have just a little bit more than a year to get off IE 8, 9 and 10."
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