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This fall, Microsoft will issue the general release of the next version of its operating system to both consumers and enterprises.

Windows 10 will very likely be the last major upgrade that Microsoft will ever offer. After that, updates will be incremental and instantaneous. Meanwhile, your business may be humming right along with Windows 7.

So when you’re talking about Windows 10 in the boardroom, here are the basic facts you should bring up.

What to Know

1. It’s About Moving Businesses from Software to Services

Installing, maintaining and configuring monolithic software are 20th century headaches in the 21st century enterprise. Up until version 8.1, the core function of Windows has been to manage a PC with a keyboard and a mouse — everything else has been a bonus.

Windows 10 aims to become a launching point for modern, cloud-based services, including the new Azure Active Directory Premium, helping on-premises and cloud apps to recognize secure identities. If Windows 10 remains cheap, those services may not be.

2. Its Distribution and Licensing Models Will be Different

Microsoft describes Windows 10’s new distribution model as “Windows-as-a-Service.” Jackdaw Research Chief Analyst Jan Dawson calls this model “essentially a totally new concept, not really like Software-as-a-Service but also a break from how Microsoft has licensed Windows in the past.” 

Microsoft plans to issue incremental feature updates to consumers as soon as they’re available for no additional charge, rather than waiting for a “Windows 11.” It will also license Windows on a per-user rather than per-processor basis, including to volume license customers, in an effort to encourage Windows’ use on multiple platforms.

3. Administering Feature Updates Will Require Patience

Historically, businesses have paid extra for so-called “Software Assurance” (SA) — essentially, the same rights to new feature updates that Microsoft will now be giving away to consumers. Microsoft could essentially reverse the meaning of SA, giving Windows Enterprise licensees for the first time the option to use System Center Configuration Manager to defer instantaneous feature updates, until such time as they’ve been tested with the company’s existing software.

TECHnalysis Chief Analyst Bob O’Donnell believes feature updates won’t be more frequent than quarterly. “[Microsoft] wants the flexibility to deliver these things as it completes them, and give organizations the option to deploy or not deploy them,” said O’Donnell. “It’s a question of how it’s managed, and how frequent those feature additions are.”

4. It Enables Mobile Apps to Run Seamlessly on PCs

Over the years, Windows has featured a handful of programming models, including Win32 for Windows NT, the .NET Framework for Windows Vista and WinRT for Windows 8. None of them actually worked seamlessly (or at all) with Windows Mobile or Windows Phone, until now.

“With Windows 10, the actual OS running under the apps is effectively unified,” said IDC software research director Al Hilwa, “making tablet apps more usable for folks working with a mouse and a monitor.” Jackdaw’s Dawson believes the capability for businesses to develop one set of internal apps for both PC and mobile “could be compelling for some enterprises.”

5. It Tries Very Hard to Not Be Windows 8

Windows 10 abandons the inexplicable duality of Windows 8’s separate Start Screen and Desktop, replacing them with a design motif called Continuum. When developers follow the Continuum model, apps written for tablets can share the same space with Excel and PowerPoint. There will still be “tablet versions” of Office apps, similar to the iPad versions Microsoft introduced last year.

Still, noted Hilwa, “With Windows 10, the Desktop integrates tablet apps tidily into its windows, making them more usable for folks working with a mouse and a monitor.” Eliminating confusion among new users could make adoption easier, and drive down retraining costs.

6. It’s Not Ready for Prime Time Today

Microsoft is presently distributing to testers and early adopters a “Technical Preview” of Windows 10. It’s quite literally comprised of Windows 8.1 parts, with a replaced runtime component for apps and new features bolted on.

Whether much of the existing Win32 software will even run on the final Windows 10 may not be determined until at least summer, when later preview builds begin including fully revised kernels and core components.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by stockerre.