Foley on Microsoft

Selling Businesses on Windows 10

As is with every new OS release from Microsoft, Windows 10's long-term success will be determined by enterprise adoption.

With the rollout of Windows 10 set for this week, many are wondering how company watchers -- as well as Microsoft management -- will determine whether the OS is a success.

One key to this will be enterprise acceptance. And by that I don't mean just how many copies of Windows 10 Professional and Enterprise are sold and installed, but also the overall reception of businesses to Windows 10.

Given Windows 10 Enterprise is available to volume licensees starting Aug. 1, the clock starts now. Starting as early as the remainder of this calendar year, will business users who haven't already been testing Windows 10 as "Windows Insiders" start evaluating and maybe even piloting Windows 10 inside their organizations? Many businesses completely skipped Windows 8 because that OS wasn't designed to work well on PCs with a mouse and keyboard. (The Windows 8.1 update fixed this as best as Microsoft could, but still was largely ignored by business users.)

Microsoft needs to convince business customers that Windows 10 is better than Windows 7. The argument that Windows 10 is better than Windows 8 simply because it looks and feels more -- but not exactly like -- Windows 7 isn't a compelling one. So far, Microsoft has done relatively little -- at least publicly -- to show and tell business users why they should move to Windows 10.

We do know that Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise include a number of management, servicing/updating and security features that are available specifically for users of those versions. Thanks to a set of feature-comparison charts that Microsoft quietly published a month ago, it's official that Direct Access, AppLocker, BranchCache and more granular UX and Group Policy controls are Pro and Enterprise (but not Home) features.

We also know that users who want the rights to postpone or outright decline the automatic updating of Windows 10 with new features from Microsoft can't be running Windows 10 Home. Microsoft has built a matrix of rules regarding Windows branches that only licensing consultants could love. The bottom line: Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise customers will be able to defer for a number of months new feature updates to Windows 10 from Microsoft; only Windows 10 Enterprise users will have the right to defer new features for a decade or so. There are trade-offs involved, however; those who adopt the so-called Long Term Servicing Branch that allows the blocking of new features won't get the new Microsoft Edge browser.

Although they've gotten relatively little publicity, a bunch of new, under-the-covers security features are coming to Windows 10. Microsoft has raised the curtain on some of them, including its biometric authentication technology, known as Hello; its two-factor auth­entication technology, christened Passport; Virtual Secure Mode, which uses endpoint CPU virtualization to protect data like credentials; and its device-lockdown/trusted app technology, called Device Guard.

The catch on some of these promising-­sounding components is they may require new hardware. And some of the already-announced security technology for Windows 10, such as Enterprise Data Protection -- which uses containerization technology to keep personal and business data separate -- isn't going to be available until some unspecified time in the future.

These kinds of business technologies aren't as glamorous or easy to explain as things like Cortana or the new Start Menu. But they are the kinds of features that might get business customers to at least consider upgrading from Windows 7, even though Windows 7 works perfectly fine.

Of course, there are factors beyond features that play into when and whether companies move off an existing OS. If a business or department only recently moved to Windows 7, the end-of-support date of sometime after 2020 for Windows 7 SP1 gives them a lot of runway before they must decide whether to move or not.

That said, it will be interesting to see businesses' reactions to Windows 10 over the next few months -- and how Microsoft makes a play to win over these users and IT professionals.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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