Operating System (OS) upgrades can be a tricky thing for organisations; on the one hand they can allow you to leverage new features and technologies and increase productivity but on the other they can introduce user disruption and confusion.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the great new features that have been introduced, and what you need to watch out for when planning an upgrade.
Microsoft have greatly improved the process of performing in-place upgrades for Windows 10, by reducing the amount of space and time taken, and allowing automation through tools such as Systems Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). You can schedule the upgrade during client downtime, and users will only see a new OS, with all files and settings saved. Microsoft have also kept the minimum system requirements the same as Windows 7 and 8, meaning an expensive hardware refresh program may not be necessary.
Window updates have always been tricky to manage, requiring manual intervention to approve updates, and can become easily unmanageable without additional solutions like SCCM. Microsoft have revamped the approach to updates for small businesses by providing a new system, ‘Windows Updates for Business’. This allows you to define ‘rings’ that will define when and where your PCs receive updates, allowing you to test updates on select groups before deploying to general devices. And because the updates are download directly from Microsoft, it doesn’t require dedicated storage, like WSUS.
Microsoft have also introduced ‘Windows Hello’, a collection of FIDO compliant authentication methods, ensuring the security of your environment while allowing users flexibility of how they access systems. This is a combination of biometric authentication methods, using an iris, facial or fingerprint scan, and authentication for a large range of Azure Active Directory based services. This is a great way to reduce risk in your organisation, by allowing you to customise how users access business-critical applications, without compromising on security.
For large enterprises, keeping track of data can be a nightmare. With cloud services now freely available, users can copy company data easily onto accessible personal cloud accounts. ‘Enterprise Data Protection’ is a new technology that is designed to alleviate these concerns. An agent on the PC actively monitors where data is located. You can encrypt, and decide to wipe, any company data on that device, without affecting personal data or the device itself. You can also maintain black/whitelists of where data can be copied to/from, and audit where files are located.
These technologies are especially useful in BYOD scenarios, where users can expect a certain amount of control over devices.
Device management has always been a drawback of the traditional AD infrastructure. However Windows 10 provides direct integration with Intune, Microsoft’s subscription-based cloud management solution. Depending on your organisation’s setup, you can allow users to ‘enrol’ devices and access company resources, without actually being on-site, while still allowing system administrators to control those devices.
Along with the major upgrade, Microsoft are also upgrading Windows mobile devices. Along with this is a new version of the OS, ‘Windows 10 Enterprise’. This version allows administrators greater control of devices out in the field, and to manage mobile apps and license management. With the appropriate Mobile Device Management (MDM) environment you can manage your entire organisation’s mobile devices from a single platform.
User experience traditionally hasn’t been as unified on desktop environments (unless you already run a managed desktop estate with the likes of System Center), compared to mobile platforms. Users aren’t used to adding an application or document and having it instantly available on all their devices. Microsoft are improving this experience with a variety of new features, including better metro apps, corner snapping for a more productive workspace and virtual desktops.
The Windows Store has also had a major revamp, allowing businesses to use the store to their advantage and create a customised application portal, where users can download pre-approved business applications. This allows you to control who has access to what applications, and keep track of potentially expensive licenses.
To encourage people to upgrade, Microsoft currently provide a free upgrade, within a year of the release date, for home and pro users. However this offer does not extend to Enterprise customers. So if you do not use Volume Licensing with a Software Assurance agreement, there will be separate offers available for your environment.
Microsoft have also provided additional information on the upgrade paths available. Depending on your source OS, you may not be able to keep user and system settings, applications and files. You may also not be able to upgrade through Windows Updates, and would have to rely on either System Centre Configuration Manager or physical media. Depending on how you manage your desktops currently you may also want to turn off the automatic upgrade to ensure devices are still managed appropriately, through the likes of System Center. It’s always worth checking what Operating Systems are in use throughout your organisation, and consider what you would want to upgrade.
If you’re a Windows Home User you may have noticed that your Windows OS has popped up asking if you want to reserve an upgrade to Windows 10. Currently, any domain joined machines (whether pro or enterprise) will not display the Windows 10 upgrade option. However if you’re simply in a workgroup, users may receive the popup.
You can prevent this by uninstalling a specific Windows update (KB3035583), so users can’t upgrade until you can plan and test an appropriate upgrade path.
Windows 10 will continue to support Win32 applications, however they have removed the ability to setup a virtual XP mode, which can be used to run legacy applications on modern operations systems. It is advisable to perform testing on your current applications, and potentially consider either upgrading them or moving to a supported environment.
We think Windows 10 gives you access to a load of useful new Microsoft features, allows SMEs to have greater control of devices and provides you with a more unified experience across multiple devices. However, just like any other ‘upgrade’, before you click ‘yes’, you should always ensure that your upgrade is properly planned and managed, that you’ve tested whether any of your existing applications will be affected and identified if there are any user change management or training issues.