Windows 10 Upgrades Accelerate, Yet Many IT Pros Have Concerns
Tick, tick, tick
That insistent ticking sound you hear is Windows 7 nearing its end-of-support date. Jan. 14, 2020, is less than three years away, and yet every credible survey of the current installed base of PCs shows Windows 7 remains the most popular OS by a substantial majority.
Among consumers and small businesses, the momentum of the PC marketplace, coupled with a yearlong free upgrade offer, brought hundreds of millions of users to Windows 10. But many enterprise IT managers -- accustomed to operating with leisurely upgrade cycles -- are in no rush to migrate.
There are two recent reports that offer some cautious optimism that enterprise adoption of Windows 10 is picking up dramatically, but there's still evidence that large organizations aren't comfortable with the Windows-as-a-Service model.
A Gartner Inc. survey of more than 1,000 organizations in six countries at the end of 2016 revealed that 85 percent will have started their Windows 10 deployments by the end of 2017. The total time planned to deploy Windows 10 has shortened from 23 months to 21 months in the first full year Windows 10 was on the market, according to the Gartner survey.
A separate survey by Dimensional Research (commissioned by Ivanti) asked more than 1,800 IT professionals from around the world about their deployment plans and found that 91 percent have begun Windows 10 migrations. Even more noteworthy is that 77 percent of those organizations plan to complete their Windows 10 migrations within two years.
Adoption rates of a new version of Windows like these are unheard of. However, not all the data is so encouraging. If those projections prove accurate, one in four organizations will be scrambling to complete their deployments less than a year before Microsoft ends mainstream Windows 7 support. If that sounds like the messy end of Windows XP in 2014, you're right.
So, what obstacles are keeping big companies from flipping the Windows 10 switch more quickly?
Just like those who resisted upgrading from Windows XP a few years ago, legacy software is the biggest hindrance. Fully half of all respondents to the Dimensional Research study listed application compatibility as a reason for delaying their migration, with 26 percent blaming third-party application vendors for the delays.
Budgets are also an issue. About one in four respondents to the Gartner survey expect to run into budgeting problems as they migrate. "Windows 10 is not perceived as an immediate business-critical project," notes Gartner Research Director Ranjit Atwal.
Administrators seeking to make a business case for upgrading can start by pointing to Windows 10 security improvements, along with improved cloud integration. One surprising data point from the Dimensional Research study is improved log-on times, an impressive feat of engineering Microsoft has finally brought to Windows, as a metric that translates directly into increased productivity. A total of 60 percent say log-on times are faster with Windows 10 than the previous version of Windows, while 16 percent say they're "much faster."
The most disturbing finding from both reports, though, is the surprising popularity of the Windows 10 Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB). Overall, Dimension Research says one in five respondents plan to deploy LTSB; for companies with more than 5,000 employees, that number spikes to 27 percent.
Those numbers must be causing sleepless nights and even a few ulcers among product planners in Redmond. Microsoft is positioning the LTSB as a special-purpose distribution, one that should be reserved for hardware running mission-critical applications where stability is paramount.
But these findings suggest that enterprise admins are planning to use the LTSB to justify holding off because of what they perceive as the chaos of the new twice-yearly schedule for Windows 10 feature updates.
As Windows 10 nears its second anniversary, Microsoft has made some concessions to those skittish admins. With careful planning, an organization can stay on a single release in the Current Branch for Business for up to 18 months.
For IT admins who are used to planning upgrades every five years, that still feels much too fast.
Ed Bott is a Microsoft MVP and an award-winning tech journalist who has covered Microsoft for 25 years. He's written numerous books on Windows and Office, including the best-selling "Inside Out" series from Microsoft Press. Bott delivers outspoken advice on a wide range of technology topics at his ZDNet blog, "The Ed Bott Report."