Windows 10: Adapt or die

Windows 10 Start menu fig01

Big rethink in the cards for enterprises because of 'new velocity of change' in Windows

Windows 10's accelerated update and upgrade tempo requires enterprises to discard habits that accreted over decades, a painful change but one that can be managed, a Gartner analyst said today.

"There's a new velocity of the rate of change when you move to Windows 10," Steven Kleynhans, a Gartner analyst who tracks the Redmond, Wash. firm, said in an interview. "It's not optional. You have to get on board."

In an interview, Kleynhans, who this week will host a Windows 10 session for CIOs at Gartner's annual Orlando-based symposium, focused on what enterprises must do to deal with Windows 10, Microsoft's newest OS -- in particular, its rapid update and upgrade schedule. With Windows 10, Microsoft will deliver not only the usual security patches and the occasional non-security bug fix -- historically what the company shipped between each major version -- but also new features and functionality, user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) improvements, and enhanced services and apps.

Windows 10 will be updated about every four months -- central to Microsoft's pivot toward its "Windows as a service" strategy -- and although businesses will be on a delayed deployment schedule compared to consumers, they will, with some exceptions, be required to adopt those updates in order to continue receiving all-important security fixes.

Windows 10's update-and-upgrade practice runs counter to the previous 39 years of Microsoft practice: Software was updated and upgraded on a regular -- or not so regular -- cadence, and users chose whether to deploy the new. Between each upgrade, Microsoft usually made only the most meager of changes. The only deadline customers faced was Microsoft's 10 years of security support.

The one-two of constant and forced updates/upgrades will demand major changes in how enterprises test and deploy once they move to Windows 10. (They'll have to at some point, what with the corporate standard Windows 7 exiting support in four years and three months.)

"Most enterprises tend to be a little slow in how they approach change," Kleynhans said in a diplomatically-worded way that disguised the extent of business resistance. "They can't do that on Windows 10."

Traditionally, businesses treated a Windows upgrade -- again, the only instances when functionality morphed and new features appeared -- as a big project with a big budget and a corresponding long timeline.

"That's not the case anymore [with Windows 10]," said Kleynhans. "If you were to handle every [Windows 10] update that way, it would be ridiculous."

Instead, enterprises should craft what Kleynhans called a "production-line model" of dealing with change. Creating a set of tasks that are repeatable and in constant use will be critical, he said. As one update's deployment starts, the next update's evaluation and preliminary testing should already be in motion.

That's not to mean enterprises must -- or should -- blindly accept Microsoft's assertion that each update is problem- or bug-free. "You always have to test real production applications that keep the business running," said Kleynhans.

But it will mean that some previously-mandatory pre-deployment testing must get the heave-ho. "You have to look at what's important to you," said Kleynhans. "You have to understand what your real priorities are. Things that you're not quite so worried about, you'll just not be able to test those."

Likewise, Kleynhans suggested that enterprises reduce the amount of in-lab testing done on Windows 10's updates and upgrades, and replace that with pilot programs where small groups of users run the preview of the next-in-line update (Microsoft calls that preview "Windows Insider") or the current consumer-grade version before it hits businesses. Those users will serve as the enterprises' own guinea pigs, just as the at-large Windows 10 user base serves that purpose for Microsoft.

"Monitor that field testing, gradually expand those pilots, and start releasing to your general base of users," Kleynhans recommended. "It's a series of gradual, staggered deployments."

Then lather, rinse and repeat.

If Kleynhans' outline for enterprises sounds familiar, it should: It's essentially what Microsoft has recommended, then backed with a built-in four-month delay after consumers get a given update before businesses receive the same, with the option to push that deployment back another four months.

Even so, Kleynhans isn't certain that the tools Microsoft has pledged -- but not yet delivered in full -- for its enterprise-grade Current Branch for Business (CBB) update/upgrade track will be sufficient for customers. Theory is all well and good, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

"They certainly have promise, make sense and seem like they will work," Kleynhans said. "But is it enough? We don't know this."

Since May, Microsoft has touted Windows Update for Business (WUB) as the mechanism by which corporate customers will manage Windows 10's frequent-and-forced updates and upgrades. It has suggested that using WUB will be more economical and result in more up-to-date -- and thus secure -- devices in the workplace than sticking with Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), or its own or third-party update and patch management software.

Kleynhans' skepticism about WUB's and the CBB's abilities stems from the fact that neither has swung into action. Only parts of WUB have shipped thus far, and the CBB won't see its first release until March or April 2016.

But he remained insistent that, no matter the tools or whether Microsoft's would suffice, enterprises have to adapt to Redmond's regime, which, in turn, answered to the King.

Mobile.

"It's not Microsoft that's forcing this onto the market. Windows 10 is just following the market, forced by mobility," Kleynhans argued. "Microsoft is just following the pattern by the market at large. It's been inevitable that we've had to move to something more frequent like this. Microsoft is simply adapting some of the processes for the mobile market with Windows 10."

And although the changes seemed massive -- and overnight to many, what with Microsoft talking about the specifics only this year -- there will be time to make the necessary adjustments. Windows 10, after all, launched only two months ago, and enterprises have another 45 to get their ducks in a row, and their devices onto Windows 10 before 7 lumbers into retirement.

Likewise, measuring Microsoft's success in the transformation of Windows into a semi-service won't happen overnight. Kleynhans predicted that it would be at least two years before customers -- and Microsoft -- have a good handle on how, or even if, the new process works.

And if it doesn't?

"Microsoft can be pretty responsive to the customer base," said Kleynhans "If people say, "I just can't take this," Microsoft will work with the customer base."

And if that doesn't happen? Well, then the buck will stop here. As in at the enterprise IT department.

"People will adopt," Kleynhans said. "They have to."

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