Two Years Later: Is Windows 11 Ready for Enterprises?
OS deployment expert Michael Niehaus shares what Windows 11 does right, where it's still lacking and what we should expect from Microsoft in the future.
Windows arrived Oct. 5, 2021. And since then, it's been playing catch-up to Windows 10 when it comes to adoption. According to Statcounter's market share report for September, Windows 11 only holds 23.6 percent of the total Windows market – a far cry from Windows 10's 71.6 percent dominance.
Since its release, Microsoft has made an argument for enterprises to make the move, and it's upcoming Windows 11 23H2 update (which is currently in preview), is aimed at accelerating the Windows 11 adoption needle with new features and the introduction of its AI-powered Copilot for Windows assistant.
Even with the upcoming massive update and two years of consistent features improvements and tweaks, is Windows 11 the right call for enterprises and IT? Michael Niehaus, principal R&D engineer at Tanium and former member of the Microsoft OS team, brings his years' of expertise and insight to share the state of Microsoft's latest OS.
And for more of Niehaus' perspective, make sure to attend his upcoming Live! 360 session, titled "What's New in Windows 11," taking place this November in Orlando, Fla.
Redmond: What do you think are the biggest areas that Microsoft has improved in Windows in the last couple of years in terms of security, administration, deployment, etc.? Basically, how well has Microsoft done at making Windows management less of a headache for IT pros?
Niehaus: The shift from Windows 10 to Windows 11 was focused on two main areas: Providing an updated, fresh user interface (Start menu, task bar, fonts, icons, etc.) and increasing the adoption of security features in the OS (the main reasoning behind the changes in the Windows 11 hardware requirements). Most other areas continue to have incremental improvements.
But when it comes to helping IT pros, it seems that the incremental steps forward have been offset by new issues, so the net effect is the same number of headaches, just in slightly different areas. From a deployment perspective, Microsoft continues trying to discourage traditional bare metal deployment though some rather heavy handed means (e.g. not supporting the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit with Windows 11), steering customers toward "modern" mechanisms based around Windows Autopilot, Intune, and Entra ID (formerly Azure AD).
What do you think so far about Microsoft Copilot in Windows? Where do you think this will succeed vs. the old Cortana chat assistant?
Microsoft Copilot in Windows definitely feels like it's still a work-in-progress. What it mostly does today is answer Web queries just like Bing could already do. Where it will need to go to be a useful assistant in Windows: it will need to be able to convert text requests into actions, both with Windows and with apps (from Microsoft and third parties). This will be done through plug-ins that understand how to "do things" -- it's going to be highly dependent on the robustness of those before it could be considered a success, so that's going to take a while. Sadly, there was no emphasis in the Windows platform to provide a mechanism like that (e.g. PowerShell for controlling apps), so this is work that needs to be done from scratch. In the meantime, you'll likely see a bunch of other "AI enhancements" that fall more into the existing machine learning category: image editing, better spell checking, auto completion, etc.
What's the one feature in Windows 11 that has the highest utility-to-fanfare ratio? The most overlooked but super-useful capability?
My perspective is as a "power user." I appreciate features that others may not even notice. For example, the top feature I would tout in Windows 11 is the new Terminal app. That replaces the old Command Prompt with a highly customizable tabbed interface for interacting with PowerShell, Linux, Azure and the old command shell. I also like the improvements to dark mode support, multiple monitor behavior (e.g. remembering where your windows were as you remove and re-add external monitors to your laptop), and ARM64 emulation that makes Windows on ARM very good (as I run multiple ARM-based Windows devices).
When it comes to staying up-to-date on Windows changes, what’s the best way for IT pros to approach their education and training? Is the Insider program a must?
At the very least, you should keep up with the announcements from the Windows Insider blog. That tells you about the changes that are released each week. I do think it makes sense to have a machine (one that you actually use day-to-day) running an Insider build of Windows so you can experience these changes. As an IT pro, you generally have access to multiple machines, so you can always fall back to using a different computer if you run into any issues, but I can't remember the last time I needed to do that -- sure, you might find a few annoyances and "known issues" in a build every now and then, but being able to experience and provide feedback on new features is certainly worthwhile. That said, I know a lot of IT pros don't always have any spare time, so I keep doing presentations on what's new in Windows 11 -- it doesn't feel new to me anymore, but I guess I'm not normal.
So… is it too early to talk about Windows 12?
Yes and no. The rumors are flying about a potential Windows 12 release in 2024, which Microsoft flatly denies. But it doesn't really matter if that next release (24H2, due in October 2024) is called Windows 11 24H2 or Windows 12 -- we know that it will continue to refine the Windows 11 experience, add lots of new AI-focused features, and improve security of the Windows platform. There are some other rumored efforts going on to bring some of the Windows 10x features to market (e.g. through smaller OS editions to compete with Chromebooks; state separation to make the OS read-only and easier to upgrade), but those could potentially be longer-term bets. I don't think anyone will truly be able to answer the "will there be a Windows 12" release until mid-2024, and even then it's likely to be more of a marketing-driven decision than a tech-driven one.