Enterprise Must Pay for Windows 10: Will the OS be worth it?
Written by Philip Magson
Microsoft's January announcement, that Windows 10 would only be free for home users and not the enterprise, disappointed many. Anticipation for the new flagship OS has been positive, but is this latest news a cloud on the horizon - and what does it mean for Windows 10 business users?
Releasing Windows 10 for 'free' is part of an overarching strategy - to get the OS on as many devices as possible and alter the way people view Windows - shifting perceptions of it from a product, to a service. With this in mind, Microsoft is going to offer users upgrades and updates to the OS for the lifetime of their devices, "at no cost". It's a way to retain users to the Microsoft brand: no longer will people purchase their pre-installed OS from Microsoft and then disappear for 5-6 years until they buy a new device - now, everyone will be on the same page, running the same (fully upgraded) version of Windows on every machine, all the time. With so much emphasis on converting home and small business users to the cause, it's easy to see why enterprise users might well feel a little left out of the Windows 10 party.
Obviously, it bears saying that Microsoft still needs to make money - and there's plenty to be made from enterprise customers. If it's value you're worried about with Windows 10, then rest assured the OS has its fair share of eye-catching gimmicks, including the unification of devices and desktops, universal apps, new security features and the intriguing integration of the HoloLens... But the issue of offering the OS for free (or not) isn't as simple as that: a 'free' upgrade isn't necessarily as valuable, or as desirable for business clients as it is to home users. In fact, Microsoft's restriction of the Windows 10 upgrade is actually a strategy to allow enterprise users to buy into the 'Windows as a service' idea on their own terms.
The biggest concern for enterprise computing environments is change. Constant upgrades and updates are not necessarily good for business continuity and consistency. On the whole, we want our software to do the same thing today that it did yesterday, without having to test its efficiency, retrain staff or re-learn how to use applications. Microsoft understands this and so the company is offering enterprise users something different with Windows 10: Long Term Servicing (LTS) and Current Branch for Business (CBB).
LTS is a version of Windows 10 which offers users a stable, unchanging environment over the duration of its lifetime which only updates security features. LTS branches will be released periodically which integrate both new features and security fixes - so that businesses can choose whether to implement them. That approach is one solution to the enterprise problem, but for my business environment - and for many of my clients - a far greater level of flexibility is required. As a rule businesses need innovation to succeed: I certainly encourage it, and I want to be able to use Windows 10 to innovate in my professional life - especially if a useful feature or killer-app comes along. For people like me, Windows 10 Current Branch for Business is an attractive prospect.
CBB will match the updates and upgrades of the consumer version of the OS, but let admins hold back new features from their environments, and implement them only after testing compatibility with their professional needs. The idea is business users get the best of Windows 10 (albeit later than others) without risking output or efficiency.
I'm excited to see what Windows 10 does for our clients. Smaller businesses don't have the same concerns as larger organisations (and in many cases, will be able to take advantage of the free Windows 10 upgrade) but that's not to say CBB won't be useful - in theory it's effects should have more of an impact since it takes less time to test the efficiency of new features and less time to implement changes if every company device is running the same version of the OS. Interestingly, smaller business environments potentially have the best of both worlds with Windows 10: they will be able to both see the positive effects of its innovations and spot its problems, much more quickly than their big business counterparts.
We're entering a new era for Windows, in which 'versions' may well disappear. After Windows 10, your Windows 'service' will continue in perpetuity (if you want it to) and the upheaval of integrating a new OS will disappear. At least, that's the plan: Apple, along with Android, are making inroads into enterprise and fighting for more business users - the ace up Microsoft's sleeve this time, however, may well be that those users who don't like what their new OS does, can - to a certain extent - create a version they do like.
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