Windows 10Windows 10 was sold with the promise that it would be the final operating system that users would ever own.  As we approach the two year anniversary of its launch, Microsoft is holding fast to its promise, however, many IT departments are displeased with what this final solution means for businesses.

Software as a service (SaaS) is the dream solution for IT managers, at least when it works correctly.  Software is hosted offsite and delivered to users as an internet based application, complete with all the latest updates already installed.  While Windows 10 does not follow SaaS model exactly, it does include many of the same features.  Windows 10 functions as a delivery platform for all future versions of Windows.  Patches, as well as major content updates are delivered automatically to owners so long as they don’t manually opt-out of the system.   Unfortunately for department managers, this has started to create unique new problems.

The problems stem from the manner in which IT departments and business computer infrastructure have been run traditionally.  For many businesses, once a new computer was setup, or a new operating system installed, the testing phase was effectively over.  Security updates would be applied periodically but major revisions were limited to irregular Service Packs.  Windows 7, for example, released Service Pack 1 in February of 2011 and has remained largely unchanged since.  This steadfast product cycle has made it easy for businesses to largely ignore system upgrades and adopt a break-fix philosophy for system management.  As business requirements changed in the seven years since Windows 7 launched, online security became a more pressing concern, as such, Microsoft has adopted a more aggressive upgrade cycle for Windows 10.

Windows 10 Pro allows users to defer an update up to eight months but that upgrade cycle is soon being reduced to 180 days.

Under the new Windows 10 deployment schedule, major system updates are deployed more frequently.  The Windows 10 Anniversary update was released on August 2nd, 2016 with another major update planned for spring 2017.   These updates include major revisions to the Windows operating system and unlike Service Packs from the past, these updates are unavoidable.  IT managers may delay these updates with the Group Policy defer feature, but only up to eight months.  After the update grace period has ended, the service update becomes a mandatory upgrade.

The goal behind mandated upgrades is simple; Microsoft can provide better security and compatibility with its software if everyone is kept up-to-date and on the same version.  The problem comes back to third party support and understaffed IT departments.  Many businesses rely on custom written software that is prone to breaking when introduced to an untested environment.  If an incompatibility issue arises, businesses are stuck with their upgrade and may experience delays or other interruptions.  This problem is worsened by the fact that Microsoft has done away with incremental upgrades.  Past versions of Windows used multi-part updates that allowed users to opt-in to parts of an update as needed.  This added complexity often resulted in problems of its own, but it did offer IT managers’ flexibility when it came to testing an incompatibility.  Now, if a problem occurs, the only option is to roll back the complete update and hope for the best.

All of this may come across as a bit doom and gloom, however, it’s important to remember there is logic behind many of the changes introduced with Windows 10.  A constantly upgraded platform is going to be more secure than the set-it-and-forget-it method of OS deployment we’ve seen in the past.  Also, as business needs change, a constantly evolving operating system offers more flexibility than a stagnant platform. For business owners, change can be scary but disruptive technology often leads to innovation and improved efficiency.  For the time being, however, make sure to keep an eye on the update pipeline and fully test your systems prior to a mandated upgrade.