Microsoft Explains What 'Windows As A Service' Will Mean For Business Customers When Windows 10 Launches

Microsoft is aware that enterprise customers aren't going to move to Windows 10 en masse, especially considering how jarring the major user interface changes in Windows 8 were to many.

Jim Alkove, head of the Windows enterprise program management team, said in a blog post Friday that Microsoft will let enterprises adopt new Windows 10 features and functionality at their own speed – or not at all, if they prefer – with two new updating options.

The first option, which Microsoft is calling "Long Term Servicing Branches," is for organizations like hospitals, financial services firms and air traffic control towers, which just want security and critical updates, but not new features and functionality.

These types of organizations are primarily concerned with keeping their mission critical systems up and running, and they prefer to have fine grained control over any updates they add to these systems to minimize the risk of downtime.

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The second option, called "Current Branch For Business," includes security and critical updates as well as new Windows 10 features and functionality. Microsoft will make the features available to enterprises only after they've been "validated" by consumers and early testers, Alkove said.

Current Branch For Business is for enterprises with lots of end user devices that don't need to be managed as mission critical systems and can be updated automatically, Alkove said in the blog post.

Douglas Grosfield, president and CEO of Xylotek Solutions, a Cambridge, Ontario-based Microsoft partner, told CRN the new updating options come with both positives and negatives for the Microsoft channel.

"As a partner, I obviously have concerns about the impact of the always-up-to-date option, as it takes away the sale of new Windows licenses and associated upgrade professional services," Grosfield told CRN.

At the same time, partners that are following Microsoft's advice by delivering managed services will see lots of efficiencies from having all their clients' PCs in a common and consistent state, said Grosfield.

"This makes things far more repeatable, and thus profitable, in terms of service delivery," Grosfield said.

Andrew Kretzer, director of sales and marketing at Bold Data Technology, a Fremont, Calif.-based system builder, has a similar view.

"While I can see how this may adversely affect some desktop vendors who have previously counted on the revenue bumps from the Windows upgrade cycles, I think that effect will be minimal," he said in an email.

Alkove said Microsoft intends to give customers "reasonable notice" of coming Long Term Servicing Branches, and plans to deliver the first one around the same time that Windows 10 hits the market.

Enterprise customers will be able to move their devices back and forth between the two Windows 10 updating options as they see fit, said Alkove.

Microsoft executives, at the Windows 10 consumer event earlier this month, used the term "Windows as a service" without explaining what this means or how it'll affect customers. Some industry watchers interpreted this to mean a subscription version of Windows that's sold as a cloud service.

This isn't the case, but Microsoft is taking a step in that direction by continually updating Windows with new technology as it does with cloud services like Azure and Office 365, instead of saving it all up for a major release.

"Rather than waiting for the next major release, Microsoft will provide new features and functionality and deliver security updates and critical fixes on a regular basis," Alkove said in the blog post.

Microsoft said Windows 7 and Windows 8 customers will be given free upgrades to Windows 10, but this offer is only for consumers. Many enterprises have Software Assurance contracts, which means they'll get new Windows 10 features and functionality as part of the plans they've signed up for.

By giving enterprises options for updating Windows 10, Microsoft appears to be trying to convince customers who might be planning to stay on Windows 7 that they can upgrade to Windows 10 without any disruptions.