Windows 10's launch is less than six weeks away, but questions -- lots of questions -- still remain about the new operating system, from when it will be taken to the bosom of enterprise to whether some of Microsoft's moves leading up to it were premeditated.
Computerworld spoke to one of Gartner's resident Microsoft experts, Steve Kleynhans, posing 10 questions about Windows 10, to get some answers. Kleynhans' responses were lightly edited for length.
Will Windows 10 beat Windows 7's first-year adoption rate, which stood at 22% of all Windows PCs at the end of 12 months? "It is quite likely that Windows 10 will beat Windows 7's adoption in the first year due to three factors," said Kleynhans. "First, the free upgrade will probably be taken by a relatively healthy portion of the population. Second, more users have automatic updates enabled today than six years ago. And third, compatibility between Windows 7 and Windows 10 is significantly better than between Windows XP and Windows 7. There will be a lot fewer blockers to get in the way.
"Enterprise adoption isn't likely to be significantly better in the first year. However, enterprises will move more quickly to Windows 10 than Windows 7 and there will be a few motivated to move a bit earlier if only because of the one-year free upgrade deadline. There are fewer barriers to moving with Windows 10, including in-place upgrades and no new Internet Explorer [IE] version to wrestle with, so while enterprises will take a bit longer than consumers to get started, both should be a lot higher with Windows 10."
When will enterprises begin adopting Windows 10 in force? "Companies never do anything quickly, so aside from some aggressive early adopters, most organizations will use 2016 as a time to study the new OS and potentially run some pilots," Kleynhans said. "Real roll-outs might start in late 2016, but are more likely to really kick off in 2017."
What's Windows 10's biggest draw for enterprises? "Two things: security and lighter-weight management," said Kleynhans. "There are a number of security enhancements, from biometric log-ins to hardware-enabled protection for parts of the OS, that will be compelling to enterprises.
"Similarly, the ability to use a store for provisioning users, enabling a self-service model, and potentially opening options for BYOD will be attractive.
"In the short term most companies are looking at Windows 10 as providing them access to 2-in-1 devices that users find intriguing, without having to figure out Windows 8 or deal with some of its enterprise shortcomings. But regardless of any goodness in the product, the biggest driver will ultimately be Windows 7's end-of-life."
What in Windows 10 -- or about it -- will be the biggest inhibitor to adoption by enterprise? "Probably inertia," said Kleynhans. "For the most part, hardware and software compatibility isn't a big blocker, although official ISV [independent software vendor] support may be, especially in regulated industries. But doing a large-scale Windows migration is a major project. While it is nice to say that this is the last one enterprises will have to do, they still have to do this one.
"Like any major project, it will take budgeting of time and resources. It will be disruptive. There are also things to learn and integrate into existing processes, such as the new servicing model, selecting a branch, and changes in how they manage things in order to keep current and supported."
[Computerworld couldn't resist a follow-up question about Kleynhans' reference to "the last one enterprises will have to do," asking him if that would, in fact, be the case. "I think Microsoft believes that," Kleynhans answered. "That's the plan of record. But things change. In 10 years, who know what will happen?"]
Will enterprises accept Windows 10's new patching and update schemes, or will they reflexively lock down devices with LTSB (long-term servicing branch) and just treat Windows 10 as they now do Window 7? "Some enterprises will undoubtedly try to fall back to the LTSB because it will seem safe and familiar," agreed Kleynhans. "But I suspect that they will quickly discover that the limitations make it unsuitable for a large portion of their users.
"Once they address the new update cadence for some users, it will be straightforward to extend it to a larger group, lessening the appeal of the LTSB. We will probably see some companies start with the majority of their users on LTSB, but quickly shift towards only those who really need it. By 2019 it is likely that LTSB will be a small percentage of users, less than 10%."
Will Windows 10 measurably help Microsoft in mobile?
"Well, it couldn't hurt," countered Kleynhans. "But it really is a big question whether it will draw developers to the platform with the kind of apps that are being developed for iOS and Android.
"The only thing that truly solves the problem is market share. If a developer perceives the entire Windows 10 ecosystem as a target, the market share number will look pretty good. However, it is likely that most phone developers will continue to focus solely on the Windows smartphone number, and that will dampen their interest."
What about Microsoft's Universal app strategy? Will that have an impact? "Microsoft certainly hopes it will," said Kleynhans. "But any impact will be a relatively slow build. It will be one more option in a broad collection of options for developers, even if they only focus on the PC: Should I develop a Web app, should I write a traditional Windows app, keep building .NET?
"I think developers targeting PCs will settle on a combination of Web and Universal apps, but that is likely to be 2018 or later, when a critical mass of Windows 10 devices is in businesses.
"Universal Windows apps are most immediately compelling to businesses looking at building something that needs to be accessed on a tablet and a PC, or potentially a 2-in-1. So it will help Windows 10 gain a stronger foothold in vertical business applications with a mobility component.
"In the short term, there may also be some success with games. People like casual games as a simple distraction, even on PCs, so that will be a reasonably good target."
Will there be a repeat of the scramble to get off Windows XP as Windows 7 nears retirement in January 2020? "There is a lot more awareness of the end-of-life of Windows 7 than there was of Windows XP's," Kleynhans said. "It is still fresh in the minds of a lot of companies, and so you are seeing it pop up on long-range road maps.
"Generally, companies will plan to be more proactive and will have great intentions about avoiding the mad dash to the finish line in 2019, but the realities of business, and human nature, will cause plans to slip. I expect it will be less of a scramble, but it will still be a scramble."
Will Microsoft be able to continue to charge for the OS or will it revert to a support model for revenue? "Microsoft will continue to charge for Windows," Kleynhans asserted. "The real question is whether users perceive that they are paying for Windows.
"The vast majority of users will get Windows as part of the device and the cost will be buried in the device, like the cost of the screen or battery. Unless you are building your own PCs, it won't be visible. Users will get all the updates on that device for free so they won't perceive that they ever pay for Windows.
"Enterprises, on the other hand, will be gradually coaxed towards a Software Assurance model with flexibility, deeper support, and additional management and security capabilities being the carrots offered over traditional volume licensing. This will look much more like a subscription model."
In hindsight, several of Microsoft's moves in 2014 now seem to be preliminary steps toward Windows 10, including the requirement that businesses migrate to Windows 8.1 Update within four months, and the deprecation of most IE editions other than IE11. Were these part of a master plan, or was Microsoft simply trying things?" "It's probably best to think of this as more an evolutionary process than a detailed master plan," said Kleynhans. "Obviously, there was always a plan to get people off older versions of IE. The specific timing, though, was in place before the details of Windows 10 were locked down.
"I look at the updates for Windows 8.1 as being tweaking and testing towards a goal of faster updates, rather than long-term steps in a grand scheme. Remember there was a regime change in Windows, and Microsoft for that matter, right in the middle of all of this, and what we are seeing now is the output of the new leaders, tempered with some marketplace realities."