Microsoft Windows 10 – Will Enterprises Get a Good Deal?

By Jeff Muscarella

EVP, IT Spend Management Services, NPI

January 30, 2015

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Last week, Microsoft gave us a preview of Windows 10. The display of new features and tools was mildly impressive, but the big news has been around the changes Microsoft is making to move its core business to a services-oriented model. As such, Windows 10 isn’t just a new version; it’s an indicator of some very big changes happening in Redmond.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Windows 10 will integrate Cortana, Microsoft’s intelligent personal assistant (and response to Apple’s Siri) across the OS. A new web browser, code name “Spartan,” will replace Internet Explorer. And, Microsoft’s “Continuum” strategy and technology will finally unify the Windows experience across computer, tablet and phone. This, combined with other aspects of the new release, will make Windows 10 look less like a product and more like a collection of services delivered through the Microsoft platform.

The upgrade path is where things get really interesting. According to last week’s announcement, Windows 10 will be made available for free for the next year to those users already running Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and Windows Phone. Once a Windows device is upgraded, Microsoft will continue to keep it current for the supported lifetime of the device at no additional charge. New features will now be available when they’re ready instead of waiting for the next major release.

In short, if you’re already running Windows 7 or higher on a Windows device, the upgrade is free if you do it within the first year.

As for those users that wait longer than a year to upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft has been mum on whether the upgrade will be free. Some are predicting they will charge for the platform on new devices, but at a price that’s significantly lower than what they have historically charged for new Windows versions or using a tiered-by-year pricing approach.

On the surface, Microsoft’s shift in upgrade strategy is good news. The company has struggled to move users to new OS versions quickly – a limited-time offer to do it for free is good motivation. More people on Windows 10 means more people finally experiencing Microsoft as a services-oriented company, rather than a product company. Additionally, a mass migration will prompt developers to start writing Windows 10-supported apps that promote a unified Windows experience across phones, tablets and computers.

The big question is this – will Microsoft’s enterprise customers be able to benefit from this new strategy, or will it only be applicable to SMB and personal users? Many Microsoft enterprise customers are under an enterprise agreement (EA) and pay hefty software assurance (SA) fees to access upgrades – revenue that Microsoft counts on. According to Al Gillen of IDC, Microsoft has not said that upgrades from Windows 7 will be free for enterprise users. It’s a safe bet that there’s a price tag connected to that omission of detail.

And, what about enterprises that are hesitant to implement new features and updates as they hit the market? “Latest and greatest” isn’t always a good thing when it comes to un-vetted updates; just ask your IT helpdesk. Microsoft has said they will provide an option for business customers to postpone non-critical updates for four months so they can test changes…but – again – that option may come at a price.

Many more questions linger around Windows 10, including: What impact will it have on Microsoft’s SA strategy for volume customers? Will SAs be devalued by these changes, or will they be the path to securing an upgrade cycle that works best for the enterprise? How will the Windows User Subscription License play into this?

There’s no doubt that Microsoft has charted a new course – and this is just the beginning of many changes ahead. The vendor is on a mission to simplify the way it delivers, licenses and supports its offerings – ultimately a good thing. Navigating the practical implications of these changes – cost, upgrade and testing strategy, licensing evolution and compliance – will present some transition challenges for Microsoft’s enterprise customers over the coming year.