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Dell, Microsoft CEOs discuss Windows 10 PC strategies

The Microsoft-Dell partnership got competitive this year with Microsoft's first 2-in-1 device, but Dell's Windows 10 laptops differ in one important area.

AUSTIN, Texas -- IT pros said there is plenty of room for Microsoft alongside Dell in a crowded PC market, but whether that boosts Windows 10 adoption in businesses remains to be seen.

Microsoft recently debuted the Surface Book, a Windows 10 2-in-1 laptop built on Intel's Skylake processor and a detachable 13.5-inch display that's nearly double the cost of the newest Dell machine. Dell's XPS 13 laptop starts at $799, while the Surface Book starts at $1,499.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell sat down together at Dell World here, where the two explained what differentiates their desktop hardware and how their respective devices may boost the PC market.

"When I look at what Microsoft is doing with Windows 10 and the Surface family of products, what they're doing is they're pushing Windows 10 into new places and driving the platform forward," Dell said.  

The companies typically aren't competing on price for laptops and Microsoft is not yet a serious PC vendor to businesses, said Mehran Basiratmand, CTO of Florida Atlantic University, based in Boca Raton, Fla.

"I think there is room for both of them," Basiratmand said. "Microsoft has in the past ventured into the hardware business and not followed through with it. Many of us have been in this business long enough, so we want to make sure that this time it's for real."

Others find it difficult to view Microsoft as a hardware company.

"They're a software company and I treat them as that," said Brian Scheible, IT services manager, at Virginia Beach, VA.-based defense contractor Valkyrie Enterprises.  

Dell has retained many of its customers due to its customer service and knack for backing Microsoft products, Scheible said.

"I've stuck with Dell for a long time and I trust them," he said.

When Microsoft first decided to create a laptop line, company executives called the Dell CEO to explain its plans.

"I wanted to understand what they were doing and why they were doing it," Dell said. "When we understood that the intent is basically to drive the platform…push it into new territory and we come in with a product that's more affordable and we can sell 100 times more, great. That works."

Dell refreshed its line of OptiPlex business PCs in the 3000, 5000 and 7000 models this week. The machines are made smaller, more energy efficient and rely on the sixth generation Intel vPro Processor. The desktops include Dell Data Protection suite for encryption, authentication, and malware protection, and come in 43% smaller form factors than the previous generation, Dell said. The prices were not disclosed.

Windows 10 adoption on the rise

The common goal between Dell and Microsoft is getting their respective customer bases to adopt Windows 10 as quickly as possible.

There are roughly 1.8 billion PCs on the planet, and 600 million PCs are at least four years old, Dell said during the morning keynote. Nadella cited these numbers to illustrate the opportunity Microsoft has in spreading Windows 10 adoption in the short term.

Microsoft said in late August there have been 75 million installs of Windows 10, including 1.5 million in the enterprise.

"We're seeing a more rapid adoption of Windows 10…certainly more consumer and small business," Dell said.  "What's interesting is enterprises are pulling Windows 10 in and are starting to plan their deployments next year."

Most businesses can't upgrade their hardware or software right away as they have to maximize their investment in the prior versions. So they must wait for the lifecycle of their current products and platforms to end before they can upgrade.

"We are on Windows 7 because in government there is a late refresh cycle," Scheible said.

Many businesses still use Windows 7 after the disappointment of Windows 8.

"We had an initial plan to upgrade to Windows 8.1, but we nixed it because of the OS and of course all of the issues it has," said Ali Brigrami, IT service manager at Bristow Group, a civilian helicopter transporation company based in Houston. "We have a plan on our roadmap to upgrade to Windows 10."

The IT department at his University has to make sure some of the older hardware is certified to run Windows 10, Basiratmand said. His department started testing the beta version of Windows 10 months ago, and is preparing to deploy it, while some employees already use it.

Ramin Edmond is a news writer with TechTarget's End User Computing media group. Contact him at Redmond@techtarget.com

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