Windows 10 May Win Over The Critics, But Can It Win Over The Enterprise?

With Windows 10 Microsoft is trying to right the wrongs of Windows 8. And it has. Windows 10 bridges the gap between the traditional PC running Windows 7 and the world of touch-based tablets, something that Windows 8 was never able to accomplish.

Microsoft has unified the computing experience across devices. It has transcended just one desktop platform -- be it tablet, PC or smartphone -- and becomes the universal OS that Bill Gates had talked about for decades but was never able to deliver.

Windows 10 reflects a more open Microsoft, less obsessed about guarding its software fiefdom and more interested in thriving in a new open cloud era of mobile computing. That's something more in line with current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's vision.

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[Related Video: Windows 10 Pros And Cons For The Channel]

Nadella told attendees at the recent Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference that the Redmond, Wash.-based company's current focus is on personal computing, reinvention of productivity and business process, and building an intelligent cloud platform. Nadella said Windows 10 is a linchpin, representing "one unifying platform, one unifying experience" and "that, to me, is the clear differentiator of what Windows stands for."

This release goes a long way toward accomplishing that. While linking Windows 7 to Windows 10, it keeps what's good about Windows 8 and leaves out the rest. Think of it as Microsoft's version of OS X Yosemite, Apple's bridge of the Mac OS and iOS.

What's At Stake For Microsoft With Windows 10

The challenge for Microsoft, as it pushes its software/Windows as a service agenda, leverages its Azure cloud services and competes against Apple and Google in the mobile space, is to not just survive, but thrive. Windows 10 represents the platform, the glue and the underlying engine that it needs to drive future success. Lose the OS battle and risk losing the war.

"Windows 10 represents a shift in mentality for Microsoft," said Larry Velez, CTO and founder of Sinu, a New York-based MSP partnering with both Google and Microsoft. With Windows 8, he said, Microsoft tried to dictate how we should use the PC and what we can do with it. With Windows 10, it looked at how customers were using technology -- like Siri and Google -- and had a huge design epiphany. "Instead of telling us how to use a PC, Windows 10 is a reflection of how people use technology today and tries improve the experience," Velez said.

But here is the catch. Many of the solution providers CRN spoke with say they still have a bad taste in their mouth from Windows 8. They are in no hurry to migrate to Windows 10.

"The chart of Windows desktop adoption I’m looking at isn't going up and to the right, it's going down. Mac OS, iOS, Android and Linux are all growing. Microsoft should worry," said one Microsoft partner who asked not to be identified.

Microsoft is trying to reverse that type of thinking. As it struggles to foster a mobile platform, adjust to declining PC sales and streamline the delivery of security patches without causing hiccups within the enterprise, it hopes Windows 10 will turn things around.

Windows 10 Marquee Features

Windows 10's marquee features are the return of the Start menu, a massively improved user interface that harkens back to Windows 7, Microsoft's personal assistant, Cortana, and the fact that it's free (early upgrade to Windows 8 Pro cost $40, $200 thereafter).

Cortana is basically Microsoft's version of Apple’s Siri with a sprinkle of Google Now thrown in. With Cortana users can make appointments with Windows 10's Calendar app, set Reminders, create Notes and Alarms, play music stored locally on a PC -- all using voice commands. Using the phrase "Hey, Cortana," users can summon the digital assistant and ask it to hunt down directions from Point A to Point B on a map. Cortana also can perform a host of Bing searches, such as "What's the weather for today?" and "Who were Chris Pratt's parents?"

Some OEMs such as Toshiba will build Cortana buttons into their upcoming Windows 10 laptops. Other OEMs such as Lenovo are leveraging Cortana with their own technology to create hybrid search services. Lenovo is using its own ReachIt search technology in conjunction with Cortana to allow people to search all their Windows 10 devices at the same time for files and documents.

More specifically for businesses, Microsoft hopes to drive them to Windows 10 Enterprise edition. The bait is all of the above, plus vastly improved mobile device management capabilities, better security and simpler sign-on and authentication through the cloud-based Azure Active Directory.

Security Takes Center Stage In Enterprise Edition

According to Microsoft executives, Windows 10 is built for security. That emphasis is three-dimensional, said Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Windows and Devices Group. He said Microsoft has targeted identity protection, credential cache protection and storage protection features.

For starters, Microsoft has added two-factor authentication support in Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise along with a data loss prevention technology. In an attempt to separate corporate and personal user data across multiple Windows 10 devices, Microsoft will allow IT managers to encrypt corporate apps, data, email, Web content and other sensitive information on Windows 10 desktops and mobile devices.

Admins will be able to set policies around which apps and corporate data can be accessed. And in an attempt to fend off malware and zero-day attacks, IT managers will be able to lock down Windows 10 devices, allowing only users that have been digitally signed by a trusted Microsoft signing service to run specific apps.

The feature is called Device Guard and Microsoft already has support from Acer, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Toshiba, which have pledged to use the technology on their Windows 10 PCs and devices.

Then there is Windows Update For Business, Microsoft's name for its new approach to patch management. No longer will businesses have to wait for periodic patching (aka Patch Tuesday) -- now updates will be delivered continuously.

For companies concerned about being stuck with a faulty fix or one that introduces incompatibilities, Microsoft hopes to solve that problem by offering a distribution-ring-based model so companies can decide which PCs get updated first. Microsoft also will offer maintenance windows, allowing business to decide when updates can or should occur. It will support peer-to-peer updates as well, which will allow PCs in limited-bandwidth offices to distribute updates among themselves instead of each PC downloading updates separately.

Productivity Push

Another area of focus for Microsoft with Windows 10 is productivity. To that end, Microsoft has added to Windows 10 Virtual Desktops. These allow users to spread different projects across multiple virtual desktops. The "desktops" are essentially like having two monitors. One monitor (or virtual desktop) can have email, social media and instant messaging windows open and another desktop can have video editing software layouts, for example. With Windows 10, switching between desktops is a breeze.

Another way Microsoft is attempting to make Windows 10 more useful, if not more helpful, is that it has replaced all those information bubbles that mysteriously pop up and sink down from the lower-right-hand side of a Windows desktop with an Action Center and a Notification Menu. Now when users click on a static information bubble in the lower-right-hand corner of their Windows desktop, the Action Center will appear, revealing a Notification menu.

Here, users can view common settings, such as turning on/off Airplane Mode, or get at-a-glance access to Calendar items, most recent email subject lines and recent actions the PC has undergone.

And in an attempt to help locate recent files that tend to get lost on a PC in a Folder that should be called "The Bermuda Triangle," in Windows 10 Microsoft has created a new default landing page for File Explorer. Here, users can view folders they have tagged as Quick Access. These folders and files are the most recent files they have opened or received.

Users also can select which folders they want to have Quick Access to simply by right-clicking on the folders within the Quick Access view of File Explorer and selecting "Pin to Quick Access."

Also added to Windows 10 is tighter integration with Microsoft OneDrive. Prompts to save files in Microsoft programs such as Office now prominently feature the option to save to OneDrive. File Explorer also gives users automatic access to Microsoft OneDrive files.

Bridging The Old With The New

When Microsoft introduced Windows 8, it also introduced Metro or Modern apps, designed for finger navigation on a touch-screen device. Facing criticism over ease of use of Modern apps on devices such as 2-in-1s -- where users switch back and forth from tablet to traditional desktop environments -- Microsoft decided to solve the problem by creating universal apps. These apps allow users to buy any software application from the Windows Store and feel confident it will run on all their devices -- desktop, laptop, tablet and even a Windows Phone.

But what about those holdover Windows 8 Modern apps that aren't universal? Those existing Modern apps, in Windows 10, will take advantage of the operating system's Continuum feature automatically. Users can click the app's options button in the upper-left-hand corner of the program's window to do basic things like resize, make full screen, move, print or change the apps settings.

Microsoft's new Edge browser will ship with Windows 10, quasi-replacing Internet Explorer, which is not going away. The browser called Microsoft Edge offers Windows users a safer browsing experience. Edge, Microsoft said, was designed to defend users from increasingly sophisticated and prevalent attacks.

One advanced Edge security feature includes reducing extension support that has notoriously been a springboard for bad guys to sneak onto a PC via a Web browser. For that reason, Edge will no longer support the extensions VML, VB Script, Toolbars, BHOs or ActiveX. Microsoft makes no mention of support for Flash and Java.

Along with banning many extensions, Microsoft has added a raft of Edge browser security features that range from allowing Windows to run Edge in an app controller sandbox by default to tightening the reins on how Edge handles website certificates.

In the upper-right-hand corner of the Edge browser toolbar are edit tools. Edit functions include the ability to take screenshots and easily share or save Web pages with OneNote. The most unique function is the ability to annotate Web pages using either a digital marker or a highlighter. It's good for when users want to share a Web page and highlight text.

Can Microsoft Pull It Off?

For Winslow Technology Group, Microsoft makes a compelling case for businesses to upgrade to Windows 10. But as with any OS upgrade, ensuring business-critical applications continue to operate is the chief concern of any IT shop, said Rick Gouin, chief technology officer for the Boston-based solution provider and Dell partner.

"No one is going to be storming the gates for Windows 10," Gouin said. "We expect modest interest in Windows 10 in the later part of 2015 and for things to pick up in 2016 as more companies retire old PCs and evaluate the OS."

At Sinu, the MSP is urging clients to factor the new OS into business plans. "We are recommending Windows 10 be part of any hardware replacement strategy and for customers to start learning about the business-friendly features Windows 10 brings to the table," Velez said.

The challenge, he said, is ensuring business continuity with legacy applications while at the same time making sure businesses don't fall behind the technology curve when it comes to modernizing their infrastructure.

Trickle-Up Data Center Economics

Solution providers say businesses aren't going to make Windows 10 a high priority and press for adoption. Right now, they say, businesses have more pressing things to worry about -- ranging from mobility, mobile device management, BYOD to security.

"Windows 10 is the tide that rises the Microsoft ecosystem tide," said Gino Guidi, solutions architect at Sidepath, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider and Dell partner. For Sidepath, Windows 10 doesn't represent a huge new revenue opportunity, but rather a catalyst for growth. Windows 10 has a ripple effect driving associated sales, he said.

"Nobody retires early migrating platforms and selling new PCs," Guidi said. He's hoping businesses realize Windows 10 works better together with a more modern back end. Certain features, he said, such as Server Messenger Block on Server 2012 R2 are optimized for Windows 10 running on the client side, allowing for faster backups. Cloud integration with Windows 10 vs. Windows 7 is night and day, he added. Out of the box, Windows 10 is ready for a host of Azure services such as Azure Active Directory and other cloud applications such as OneDrive.

Azure Active Directory allows users to log into cloud-based services such as Office 365 and use those credentials to seamlessly access network resources without multiple login prompts.

Winslow Technology Group's Gouin believes the promise of a more cloud-centric OS will drive new lines of business such as virtual desktop infrastructure and convince customers to expand their data centers thanks to beefed-up security features in Windows 10.

"I'm optimistic in terms of new client business, but more importantly we see Windows 10 driving new data center business," he said. Those opportunities include everything from selling Office 365 licenses, building out private clouds and configuring disaster recovery over a network.

But even those impressed with Windows 10, such as Gouin, say the new OS might take years before mass adoption in the enterprise.

Solution providers say Microsoft is still haunted by Windows XP, which Microsoft stopped supporting in April 2014. XP is still the third most popular OS with 12 percent market share behind Windows 7 with 61 percent market share and Windows 8.1 with a 13 percent share, according to Net Applications.

On top of that, solution providers say, Microsoft faces hurdles it has never had to clear -- namely the fragmentation of the desktop that has been redefined by the cloud, mobile apps, Chrome OS and iOS devices that don't need Windows to run line-of-business applications or even versions of Microsoft's own franchise software Office.

But still many see Microsoft's glass as half full. "Microsoft may now be competing with Google and Apple and the cloud in ways it has never had to compete before," said Gouin. But, he added, Windows 10 gives Microsoft new fire in its belly and a new competitive edge.

This article originally appeared as an exclusive on the CRN Tech News App for iOS and Windows 8.