Windows 10 migration: At least it's not like last time

After learning lessons getting off Windows XP, enterprises should sail to 10

Enterprises should have an easier time migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 10 than they did the last go-round when they left behind Windows XP, an analyst said, citing lessons both Microsoft and corporations learned.

"Microsoft has provided the option to roll out [Windows 10] using most of the same processes you used with Windows 7," said Steve Kleynhans of research firm Gartner in an interview Tuesday. "For that, you get a new OS, but you don't get new capabilities. Later, you can make the decision to, say, turn on the tighter security of Windows 10, or change the way that applications are distributed by turning on the Store."

The migrate-but-then-do-more-later plan is one many enterprises will adopt, Kleynhans said, which should make the transition smoother and faster than the one businesses struggled to complete in late 2013 and early 2014 as they purged XP.

"For those who want to start [their migrations] quickly, it can be done in a very straightforward manner," Kleynhans said. "Then gradually, they can start turning on these new capabilities." Among the latter, he grouped 10's prominent security advancements, like Device Guard, and the Windows Store, which enterprises can use to deliver a restricted collection of applications to workers.

The migration-to-10 process will likely take significantly less time than the upgrade to Windows 7, but not only because enterprises can reuse most of the same tools and policies. Other factors that point to an easier-this-time OS bump, said Kleynhans, include improved application compatibility -- in theory, anyway -- because many organizations went through the work of recrafting internal apps or stepping up to more modern software, or services that replaced software, during the move from XP to Windows 7.

In a report he recently published for clients -- titled Preparing for Windows 10 Deployment -- Kleynhans contended that the upfront prep time for 10 should amount to between nine and 12 months as enterprises gather information, create and test images for deployment, then test and pilot the results both in lab-like settings as well as with small groups of users. By comparison, companies spent twice that preparing to move to Windows 7.

But while managing a Windows 10 upgrade should be easier than the XP-to-7 shift, there was an elephant in the room. "The one thing that you have to deal with immediately is the fact that Windows 10 will be updated more frequently," said Kleynhans, referring to the accelerated release cadence Microsoft has demonstrated, and pledged to continue.

"You'll have to do some planning, you must make some decisions right away about updates," he said. "Beyond that, you can roll out [Windows 10] the same way [you did Windows 7]."

Microsoft has offered enterprises an array of release tempos, from the much-like-Windows-7 Long-term Servicing Branch to the upgrade-every-12-to-18 months Current Branch for Business to the take-'em-as-they-come upgrades from the consumer-grade Current Branch. Enterprises must figure out what branch -- or track -- they'll use for which devices and for what groups of employees.

The increased update-and-upgrade frequency of Windows 10 has been the most controversial and contested aspect of the new OS for corporations. And from Kleynhans analysis, it will remain so.

In the end, however, it may have less to do with the potentially smoother transition that appeals to enterprises, and much more to do with the resolution not to repeat history that drives a faster Windows 10 migration.

"Customers made the transition from Windows XP to Windows 7, but in a lot of cases, it wasn't smooth, it was very disruptive," Kleynhans said. "They tried to do too much in too short a time. They don't want a repeat of that."

When asked if that was driving the now-not-later adoption of Windows 10, Kleynhans answered, "Absolutely. The aggressiveness that we've seen on the part of clients [in preparing for a migration] has not abated at all. They're into pilots, testing things out and getting ready for deployment."

Gartner still expects most enterprises to spend 2016 prepping for their Windows 10 migrations, with the work beginning next year and hitting its peak in 2018.

"Enterprises want [this migration] to be a little less disruptive, at a little bit less cost," Kleynhans said.

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Gregg Keizer

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