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Many organizations did not view Windows 8 as a viable long-term enterprise desktop operating system, which left IT administrators wondering what Microsoft's next big operating system would be like. What the company delivered in Windows 10 is an improvement on 8, but that doesn't mean every IT shop should jump on the bandwagon.
Originally, experts thought the next step after Windows 8 would be Windows 9. However, Microsoft decided to call its next flagship OS Windows 10 instead. The skip from 8 to 10 may have been for technical reasons that stem from the Windows 95 and Windows 98 days; it's possible Microsoft wanted to avoid creating too many Windows 9x references throughout the OS, which could have led to confusion. Regardless, Windows 10 builds on Windows 8 improvements to deliver Microsoft's next-generation desktop OS.
Windows 7 was introduced in 2009, and it is starting to show its age. Windows XP is still out there, running -- unsecurely -- on too many systems, and it has more than 11% of the market share. The Windows 8 operating system actually has many redeeming qualities that I have grown to appreciate in my own small business environment over the past couple of years, such as Work Folders, BitLocker enhancements, malware protection improvements, Near Field Communication support and the Open MDM API. The Open MDM API allows IT shops to use third-party tools for mobile device management (MDM) on devices that run Windows 8.1, including smartphones.
Still, those features were not enough to convince most enterprise desktop managers to move to Windows 8. Windows 7 is such a good operating system that many people and IT shops still use it. Additionally, many people didn't like the Modern user interface (UI) of Windows 8.
No matter the reasons Windows 8 didn't catch on, it's time for IT shops to move off older versions of the OS. I think for most organizations looking to upgrade their operating systems or refresh endpoint hardware, Windows 10 will be the de facto standard from this point forward.
But this does not mean the entire enterprise must now upgrade to Windows 10. Whether the OS is right for a given organization depends. And when IT managers set out to make that decision, it helps to start by knowing some of the best qualities of Windows 10.
Windows 10 improvements, features
Windows 10 improvements include noticeably faster startup and shutdown times than previous versions, as well as better application load times. IT administrators should expect more memory utilization enhancements and speed advancements to come in newer builds of the OS.
The traditional Start button and the Start menu are back in Windows 10. The new look and feel is a bit like Windows 8's Modern UI, but it's much easier for users to find and click the things they need without making any tweaks. Additionally, Modern UI apps now run in their own windows. They used to take up the entire screen, and it was a struggle for some users to figure out how to get back to the desktop and other programs in Windows 8. Windows 10 also has a multiple desktop feature that workers can use to organize their applications into logical desktop windows.
Admins who work in the Command Prompt frequently will be pleased to learn that QuickEdit mode -- which makes it easy to copy and paste text -- is enabled by default in Windows 10. The Alt-Tab function that simplifies switching between running programs has also been improved, and the new Action Center makes it easier to read OS alerts and access functions, such as computer settings and virtual private network connections.
A Windows Explorer makeover streamlines accessing recent files and folders, and it just looks better than the old version. Workers can also use Cortana search to locate items on their computer or on the Web.
Windows File History improvements make it much easier to set up and recover lost files, which is a life saver in the enterprise, considering the silly things that users sometimes do. And the new Web browser, called Edge, is very fast and has minimal compatibility issues thus far.
Scheduled restarts for patches replace the awful 15-minute countdown for required reboots in Windows 8, and Windows Hello offers biometric authentication. It supports existing fingerprint scanners, as well as face and iris scanners. There are also graphics improvements with support for DirectX 12, and Windows Update for Business offers greater control over Windows patch management.
Finally, with Windows 10 Mobile, users will benefit from a relatively seamless transition between desktops and mobile devices.
What to ask before taking the plunge
It's not always the best business decision to upgrade OSes and hardware, however. IT administrators and managers must come up with compelling reasons to make big changes to users' computers. There are many questions shops must ask to determine whether or not upgrading to Windows 10 is a good move.
First, consider what it will cost to upgrade in terms of the time and effort that go into planning, designing, implementing and maintaining a new OS, and compare it with the existing configuration. And don't forget to factor in user training for Windows 10. Also ask whether Windows 10's performance improvements will benefit the user base and helpdesk. Will helpdesk staff have to deal with fewer calls?
Windows 10 could be a good fit for shops looking for a better way to manage security patches without a third-party product. The same is true for organizations that want to roll out full-disk encryption -- some Windows 10 versions support Microsoft BitLocker, such as Windows 10 Pro. BitLocker has finally come of age, even for relatively complex environments.
Look at whether users require Internet Explorer for custom and legacy applications, or if Edge will meet all their needs. And consider whether a server upgrade is feasible: Some Windows 10 features are not fully accessible without Windows Server 2016.
Windows 10 is certainly not bug-free in its earliest release -- there are video driver and display problems -- but it needs to be on organizations' radar. Upgrading systems is usually worth it, especially if the new version gives more than it takes. Download and install Windows 10 in a lab environment and take it for a spin for a few weeks to see if it makes business sense. It's a decision each organization must make on its own.
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