On 29 July one-time operating-system market-leader Microsoft will hold its breath, clench its fists, and release Windows 10 into the wild. Once the training wheels are off, enterprises around the world will doubtless think back to the ignominious debut of Windows 8.
Indeed Microsoft’s decision, in naming the new Windows, to skip over “9”, is indicative of the software giant’s desire to distance itself from the hapless predecessor. Windows 8 struggled to be all things to all users in Redmond’s scramble to belatedly deliver productivity computing to mobile devices and touchscreens, while preserving Windows’ desktop heritage.
As Steve Kleynhans, vice president, Mobile and Client Computing Group, at research firm Gartner, says, “The issues surrounding Windows 8 have created problems for early adopters of that platform. It never really received broad third-party support from software vendors, and most users never really warmed up to its user experience if they were running on traditional PCs.”
The GCC experienced the same Windows 8 foibles as elsewhere, but the region has also become known as fertile ground for new technologies. As smart government projects gather steam, early adoption of hardware and software has been frequently reported by vendors and systems integrators. But will regional enterprises follow this trend when considering Windows 10 migration?
Arthur Dell, director, Technology and Service, MEA at virtualisation specialist Citrix, believes that Microsoft has given the right incentives to ensure this is the case.
“Microsoft has announced a very customer-friendly upgrade policy that effectively ensures that everyone in their installed base will want to upgrade to Windows 10 in the first year if at all possible,” Dell says. “It is therefore likely that adoption will be rapid here and globally.”
Gartner’s Kleynhans suggests that Windows 8’s failings may even work in favour of early Win-10 adoption.
“At first glance [past experience] would suggest businesses who had gone with Windows 8, like many in the Middle East, might be a little more cautious when it comes to Windows 10,” he says. “However, those customers are the ones feeling the issues with Windows 8, and the ones who will get the most relief from a move to Windows 10.”
Nicolai Solling, director of technology services, at German systems integrator Help AG, also feels rapid regional adoption may follow Windows 10’s launch, as technology decision-makers may be wooed, not by a new Windows, but by a new Microsoft – a company that is abandoning past dogmas and at last recognising a market that is fundamentally different from the one it dominated for so long.
“Overall, Windows 10 will open the door for a brand new release strategy from Microsoft,” Solling says. “First of all, the OS will initially be offered for free, which means that existing Windows users will be allowed to upgrade when the release comes out. This is very much in line with the likes of Apple, which over the years has moved to a pricing model where you pay for the hardware and the services you may run on that hardware, but software is more or less free.
“With Windows 10, the same is happening for Microsoft, where the push will be around the services you run on it, whether it is Outlook 365, Office in the cloud or the OneDrive cloud storage solution.”
Even though incentives will pull the region’s businesses towards adoption of Windows 10, most will likely proceed with caution, favouring a controlled release of the platform and its patches through a staging process before full deployment to end-user devices. Virtualisation architectures might also present attractive alternatives to full migration. Citrix’s Dell believes companies may explore “[delivering] Windows 10 to old devices and extending the life of the machine using… desktop and application virtualisation technologies”.
Once an organisation has taken the Win-10 plunge, inevitable issues of software compatibility are likely to arise, as with all platform shifts, Dell warns.
“With an exciting new Web experience on the way, with Project Spartan [Microsoft Edge], end users will surely adopt Windows 10 quickly, but older browser-based apps on which businesses depend -many of which require specific versions or plug-ins and other compatibility considerations – might pose issues,” he says. “Using application delivery and migration tools can solve this challenge easily, while native Windows 10 versions are developed.”
Microsoft has enthusiastically marketed the benefits of Windows 10 in a number of areas, stressing to consumers the lightweight nature of the core software and the slimmed-down Edge browser while marketing the cross-device development potential to software houses.
For corporate IT, Microsoft has listed everything from Windows 10’s security features to its 10-year support cycle. Gartner’s Kleynhans thinks admins may be drawn to the support system in particular as “Windows 10 will enable PCs to be managed more like smart phones are today, with a lot less effort on the part of the IT organisation”.
But Kleynhans adds a word of caution for those considering this as a benefit.
“To reach this goal, will require support for the new Windows Store, which in turn will require the software developers to find the platform attractive. Ultimately this third-party support will play a big role in determining how much the Windows experience evolves towards the goal of lighter-weight management. So far most developers seem to be taking a wait and see attitude.”
Citrix’s Dell agrees: “At the end of the day, user experience is paramount and developers would do well to well to ensure that the user experience is consistent across platforms especially for legacy applications.”
But Dell is optimistic about the potential of cross-device software development. “Windows 10, and the universal app platform that enables a single application to function natively on phones, tablets and laptops with equal ease, is an amazing innovation that will help businesses mobilise their workforce,” he says.
Help AG’s Solling is encouraged by indications that Microsoft has “been listening a lot” to users’ criticisms of Windows 8.
“The Metro Interface will take a bit of a back-seat and we will get a more classic menu back,” he notes. “Personally, this is something I look forward to. Most users who have been using Skype will have seen the first step of that in the last couple of days, where Microsoft rolled out a new release of Skype with a more classic user-interface.”
But as the Gulf’s corporate decision makers and CIOs sit down to discuss Windows 10, cyber-security issues may overshadow all other concerns. As the region experiences an increasing number of attacks and high-profile victims nurse the wounds of digital raids, the IT function may be wary of an untested platform, especially as it is intended to live on multiple device-types.
Amol Sarwate, director, Engineering at cyber-security company Qualys, is cautiously optimistic about Microsoft’s ability to deliver on its goal of secure computing for everyone. He singles out a Windows 10 feature called “Device Guard”, which is designed to shield users from the effects of malware.
“When an app is executed, Windows 10 makes a determination on whether that app is trustworthy, and notifies the user if it is not,” says Sarwate. “It uses hardware technology and virtualisation to isolate that decision-making function from the rest of the Windows operating system, which helps provide protection from attackers or malware that have managed to gain full system privileges.
“Another feature called ‘Windows Hello’, promises to take away the password burden from the user by creating a two-factor authentication system that uses biometrics. The new browser on Windows 10 Edge also has a host of security features that should help users against phishing attacks and have better reputation checks.”
Help AG specialises in cyber security solutions and Solling is also enthusiastic about Windows 10’s steps forward in that area. He cites “the kernel structure of the OS” as rendering the risk of malware infections as “only a fraction of what you see in the other Windows releases”. And, like Sarwate, Solling welcomes Windows 10’s approach to user authentication.
“Windows 10 holds some promise of finally getting rid of the static password, not just on the system itself, but also on services. [We hear] that Microsoft will base your login on biometric information and then your authentication to the system will automatically log you into cloud services, not based on your passwords, but on the trust between you and your machine.
“If Microsoft can really crack this and can allow an ecosystem to be created around secure authentication in applications without the use of static passwords, one of the most fundamental flaws of IT security may one day be a thing of the past.”
Kleynhans is more cautious, pointing out that many of Windows 10’s security measures require integration work and rely heavily upon hardware components.
“Windows 10 rethinks PC security in a number of areas,” he says. “However, many of the new capabilities are optional and require additional effort to fully leverage them. For example, the new Device Guard capabilities will secure a PC from a wider range of attacks by ensuring that trust is maintained in the entire chain of code executed after a machine is powered on. But setting this up could impact some of the flexibility needed to repair systems in the field. Using biometrics to sign in to a PC is a nice option, but requires new hardware to operate. Enterprises will likely take some time to implement these changes slowly over the next few years rather than implementing them right out of the gate.”
Windows has always played a huge part in everyday computing, but now that consumers compute using a number of devices, the decision as to which OS to favour is driven by the range of choice in apps for that OS. Microsoft has strained to deliver in this area and has been punished in the mobility market. By offering a platform that is free to consumers and appeals to businesses, Redmond may finally be able to win back the market’s attention and start to nibble on more of the smartphone segment.
In the early-adopting Gulf region, if the platform can deliver on its security and management pledges, it may stand out as a practical option for smart-government projects that demand cross-device functionality.
Gartner believes the future for Microsoft’s next-generation offering looks bright.
“Generally the feedback from enterprises who have been looking at Windows 10 as part of the preview programme has been pretty positive, and it is poised to do quite well in all regions,” says Kleynhans. “A lot of the issues customers faced in Windows 8, have been cleaned up, making it more business-friendly. At the same time, the familiarity of the experience for Windows 7 users and the unprecedented consumer push, including free upgrades, will create interest within the user base. This in turn could add some pressure on enterprises to adopt the OS more quickly.”