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Three Windows 10 upgrade questions all IT admins should ask

Before making a move to Windows 10, IT admins need to know how licensing, hardware and management are different. They also must understand the benefits and drawbacks.

Making the move to Windows 10 is not like flipping a switch. IT administrators must ask some crucial Windows 10 upgrade questions to understand what's different in Microsoft's latest operating system.

For IT departments, the most significant positive change with Windows 10 is its vastly improved security, which includes features such as Windows Hello -- a tool that enables biometric identity access. Another major change is the upgrade and update cycle. Microsoft said Windows 10 is the last desktop version of Windows for the foreseeable future. Rather than dealing with upgrades every few years, IT pros can upgrade to Windows 10 and then keep the operating system up to date through patch management.

Windows 10 works equally well on a variety of device types, including PCs, tablets and smartphones, which should make end users happy. Furthermore, Microsoft learned from its mistakes with Windows 8 and made a far more intuitive user interface for Windows 10.

Here are three of the most important Windows 10 upgrade questions to ask:

Will organizations need to buy new hardware?

The base requirements for running Windows 7 include the following:

  • a 1GHz processor;
  • 1 GB of RAM (for the 32-bit version) or 2 GB of RAM (for the 64-bit version);
  • 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit) of available hard disk space; and
  • a DirectX 9 graphics device with Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) 1.0 or higher.

The base hardware requirements for running Windows 10 are nearly identical to those of Windows 7:

  • 1 GHz processor or system on a chip;
  • 1 GB of RAM (for 32-bit upgraded devices) or 2 GB of RAM (for new devices and 64-bit upgraded devices);
  • 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit) of available hard disk space;
  • DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0; and
  • 800 x 600 video resolution.

As such, organizations currently running Windows 7 probably won't have to purchase new hardware to upgrade to Windows 10. Even so, there are two things IT shops must keep in mind.

IT pros can upgrade to Windows 10 and then keep the operating system up to date through patch management.

First, if a Windows 7 PC is equipped with the absolute minimum supported hardware, then the hardware may be inadequate for performing the actual Windows 10 upgrade itself. The upgrade process temporarily consumes compute, storage and memory resources, and Windows 7 needs to have enough hardware resources available to accommodate the upgrade process. As a general rule, a PC comfortably running Windows 7 probably has the hardware resources necessary for a Windows 10 upgrade. Keep in mind, however, that even if a computer contains the necessary hardware, a number of other factors can affect the ability to upgrade the system, including driver, application and firmware compatibility.

Second, Microsoft designed Windows 10 to take full advantage of modern hardware. As such, admins may need to upgrade their existing hardware to use features such as BitLocker encryption or Windows Hello.

How is licensing different?

Licensing brings up more Windows 10 upgrade questions. Luckily, the licensing works similarly to that of previous Windows operating systems. Admins need either a full Windows 10 operating system license or an upgrade license and a pre-existing operating system license that is eligible for a Windows 10 upgrade. For the first year Windows 10 was available, Microsoft offered free upgrades to some editions, but the offer expired in July 2016.

An organization's existing Windows edition determines the edition of Windows 10 it can upgrade to. PCs with Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 7 Starter, Windows 7 Home Basic and Windows 7 Home Premium can upgrade to Windows 10 Home. PCs running Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8.1 Pro, Windows 8.1 Pro for Students, Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.

As was the case for previous versions of Windows, Software Assurance licensing -- a bundle that covers products such as Microsoft Office and Exchange -- is also an option. With that license, organizations can spread their payments out across a designated time frame while still receiving updates to their Microsoft products.

Will admins have to take a new management approach?

Organizations that currently run Windows 7 or higher can most likely manage Windows 10 in a similar fashion to how they manage their existing operating system. Many Windows shops, for example, use Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager to deploy and manage desktop operating systems. Admins can use System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager to deploy Windows 10 even though it predates the operating system.

The big change with Windows 10 is that admins also have the option to control and secure the operating system through its built-in mobile device management APIs.

Existing group policies should have the same effect on Windows 10 devices as they do on older Windows versions. Windows 10 does support some new Group Policy settings that did not exist in previous versions of Windows, but Microsoft designed it to work with legacy group policies.

On the negative side, Microsoft stripped Windows 10 Pro of several Group Policy settings in the August 2016 Anniversary Update. After the update, for example, Windows 10 Pro admins could no longer disable certain Windows Store apps or prevent users from downloading specific third-party apps.

There are a number of previously existing Windows features Microsoft either deprecated or removed from Windows 10. The Windows 10 Anniversary Update removed the Windows Journal, for example. Microsoft encourages its customers to use OneNote instead. Similarly, The Windows 10 Anniversary Update also removed support for Windows Media Digital Rights Management. 

Next Steps

A closer look at the Windows 10 hardware requirements

Detailed guide to a Windows 10 migration

Why Windows 10 is worth considering

This was last published in January 2017

Dig Deeper on Microsoft Windows 10 operating system

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