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Windows 10 will give enterprise IT more control, but after the Windows 8 debacle, admins may have a case of migration hesitation.
Windows 10, which is now in preview mode and expected to ship in late 2015, marries the traditional and modern Windows user interfaces (UIs). It also takes some cues from enterprise mobility, as seen in its new containerization feature that separates corporate and personal data.
Microsoft's enterprise-first about-face with Windows 10 -- the company skipped the "Windows 9" name -- is much needed after the consumer-focused Windows 8 proved too difficult to use for many businesses. Microsoft acknowledged that it received pushback from enterprise customers who said Windows 8 required too much employee training.
"Microsoft lost a huge amount of ground in the enterprise with Windows 8, and it really cemented Windows 7 as the OS of choice," said Paul DeGroot, principal consultant at Pica Communications in Camano Island, Wash. "With Windows 10, Microsoft recognized these dangers."
Ric Getterprogrammer/analyst, Portland Community College
Analysts and IT pros welcomed Microsoft's renewed pursuit of the enterprise, but the company still has more persuading to do. It's too early to tell how quickly businesses will update their hardware to accommodate the new operating system.
"I doubt many customers are going to retrofit existing computers with Windows 10," DeGroot said. "Windows 10 will come into the enterprise via incremental upgrades as PCs get replaced, and it will coexist with Windows 7 machines."
Microsoft also needs to show it can create a unified OS that works across all types of products, from tiny Internet of Things machines to huge perceptive pixel touch devices. Doing so will be critical for adoption, said Tim McKellips, technical services manager of the Microsoft division at Softchoice, an IT solutions and services provider in Toronto.
Windows 10 enterprise features
The new UI for Windows 10 aims to be more intuitive for users, addressing one of the biggest complaints about Windows 8. It features a new Start Menu, a traditional Windows staple, coexisting with the Metro UI's hallmark live tiles. These modern apps will be able to run in desktop windows.
Windows 10 will also include an improved Snap View feature and a new multiple desktop view similar to Mission Control in Mac OS X. Users will also be able to toggle between keyboards and touch-based interfaces on two-in-one devices.
On the management front, the new containerization features will give IT administrators more control over managing and securing corporate applications and data, regardless of who owns the device. Microsoft is also offering an opt-in feature in which companies can lock down mission-critical applications and data to receive critical security updates.
But Microsoft must ensure that these rapid updates are solid before they get into the hands of customers. The company has had to revoke and then reissue its two Windows 8.1 updates because of problems.
"They need to, have to raise the quality bar, or [the enterprise] will hang around [Windows] 7," said Wes Miller, vice president of research at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash.
It also remains unclear what effect Windows 10's built-in management features might have on traditional desktop management products, such as System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). Microsoft has said its mobile device management tools, such as Windows Intune, will be responsible for management of all Windows devices.
"Does this mean they are moving away from SCCM and toward Intune, or does SCCM morph?" asked Brian Katz, director of mobile innovation at a large pharmaceutical manufacturer in New Jersey. "It's an interesting model."
IT professionals and customers can download a technical preview of Windows 10 through the Windows Insider Program.
Is a free Windows 10 on the horizon?
Customers won't consider Windows 10 until they know more about its pricing and availability, said Miller. Some observers wondered if Microsoft will take a page from Apple's iOS playbook and make Windows free, but the company has not commented on its plans.
Apple is putting a great deal of pressure on Microsoft to go with a free OS, said Ric Getter, a programmer/analyst at Portland Community College in Portland, Ore.
"That would simplify things a great deal on the enterprise, but any place [that is] really large already has a license agreement with upgrade paths built in," he said.
Windows 8.1 Pro sells for $199.99 in the Microsoft Store, but Microsoft is making Windows free for the manufacturers of tablets and phones smaller than nine inches. The company also dropped the licensing price for low-cost PC makers.