Enterprise Software

Windows 10 one year on: Has it been a success for Microsoft?

How has Microsoft handled the first year in the life of its flagship OS and what does the future hold?

Microsoft has made some controversial choices in how it pushed Windows 7 and 8.1 users to upgrade to Windows 10.

Since releasing Windows 10 almost one year ago, Microsoft has pushed hard to get Windows users to upgrade, to the point where its heavy-handed tactics drew sharp criticism.

But despite that drive, Microsoft recently admitted that — while Windows 10 is now used on some 350 million devices — the firm will likely miss its target for one billion devices to be running the OS by the end of summer 2018.

Microsoft is blaming sluggish sales of Windows 10 phones for the shortfall, with the company shifting its focus away from Windows on phones until the expected launch of the Surface Phone next year.

"What's changed is that the phone business has not has not evolved in the way that Microsoft expected it to," said Al Gillen, GVP of enterprise infrastructure at analyst house IDC.

"They've arguably lost a pretty significant number, probably in the order of multiple hundreds of millions of phones that are not going to be sold running Windows 10."

But how much of a problem is it for Microsoft to miss its self-imposed deadline? If Windows 10 is on 800 million devices instead of one billion by summer 2018 that isn't an issue in itself, says Gillen. What's more of a problem, he said, is that Windows 10's lacklustre performance on mobile means adoption of the OS will primarily be driven by the PC market, which has been in decline for years.

"They have a contracting market opportunity, rather than an exploding market opportunity," he said.

This lack of mobile take-up weakens the appeal of a key Windows 10 feature that Microsoft used to sell the OS to developers and users, the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app. While Microsoft says it is relatively easy for developers to turn a desktop UWP app into a mobile one, the motivation to do so is lessened if relatively few people use Windows 10 phones.

Developers are likely to prioritise Android and iOS devices and, while still developing for Windows PCs, the Windows platform will probably be "not nearly as important as these mobile devices are", said Gillen.

Windows 10 is playing catch-up with the mobile platforms when it comes to user numbers, said Richard Edwards, principal research analyst with Ovum.

"Developers will only become interested in Microsoft if it can point to a large, addressable audience. Apple has approximately 900 million active iOS devices in circulation — the company reported it had sold 1 billion iOS devices back in January — so Microsoft needs to be in the same ballpark," he said.

This situation doesn't necessarily put Microsoft as a whole on the back foot, however, according to IDC's Gillen.

"Now this is a problem for Windows and for the Windows applications but it isn't necessarily a problem for the larger Microsoft," said Gillen, citing Microsoft's willingness to integrate Microsoft services such as Azure Active Directory and applications such as Office with Android and iOS — rather than locking everything to Windows.

Microsoft does seem to have demoted the importance of Windows to its business, said Steve Kleynhans, VP for the mobile and client computing group at Gartner, as the company pursues its "cloud first" strategy.

"In the end Windows is just one of their products that support their overall cloud initiative and if they can't win the mobile space with Windows they'll go after it with something else," he said.

"This is not the old Microsoft where everything was focused on 'Windows has to be a success'. Windows used to be the lead player at Microsoft, Windows is now just one of the supporting characters."

Will Microsoft's aggression in pushing Windows 10 damage the firm?

Microsoft made some controversial choices in how it pushed home users of Windows 7 and 8.1 to upgrade to Windows 10.

Since the offer of a free upgrade launched last year, Microsoft has become increasingly aggressive in its attempts to persuade people to switch, first making the upgrade process begin automatically on most home machines and then temporarily making it easier to inadvertently accept the upgrade.

The issue of unwanted upgrades even ended up in court, with a judgement in a small claims court that Microsoft should pay $10,000 to Teri Goldstein, a travel agent based in Sausalito, California, who said an unwanted Windows 10 upgrade made her PC unstable.

But will these controversies over how Microsoft pushed upgrades onto users cause any long-term damage to the firm's reputation? Probably not, says Gartner's Kleynhans.

"I think the general populace will generally forget a lot of that stuff, I don't think it's permanent damage. People will forget that there ever was a free upgrade within a few months," he said.

"It was unfortunate that Microsoft was quite as aggressive as they were. I think you'll see that that they will learn from all of these different things and you'll see them do things differently in the future."

What's next for Windows 10 and can you keep running Windows 7?

Microsoft has said that Windows 10 will cease to be available as a free upgrade to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users on July 29th.

After this point, consumer take-up of Windows 10 will slow down and businesses will begin to deploy the OS in earnest, according to Forrester principal analyst JP Gownder.

"2017 will be a big year for enterprise upgrades. Many organizations are already piloting Windows 10 devices, but in 2017 they will be driven by security concerns," said Gownder, citing the OS' support for security features such as application containerization, faster updates and anti-malware instructions built into Intel's recent Skylake processors.

IDC's Gillen agreed that firms would likely begin the process of rolling out Windows 10 within the next eight months, although he said the process could take businesses up to four years to complete.

From mid-2018, firms will have an extra incentive to deploy new PCs with Windows 10, rather than downgrading them to an earlier OS, as from this point Microsoft will no longer deliver updates to Skylake PCs running Windows 7 or 8.1, aside from critical patches.

Generally businesses are talking about "wanting to get through this migration quicker then they've done it in the past", according to Gartner's Kleynhans.

This greater urgency to switch every machine to Windows 10 stems from a desire to take full advantage of the new security and management features in the OS, he said.

"For enterprise, if you like the security, and that's the reason you're going [to Windows 10], you have to get that security across all your machines as quickly as you can," he said, stressing that businesses were keen to use Enterprise edition security features such as Credential Guard, which offers additional protection for login details, and Device Guard, which allows devices to be restricted to only running trusted software.

For home users who don't want to upgrade to Windows 10, however, IDC's Gillen sees no reason why they shouldn't continue using Windows 7 until Microsoft stops patching it against security flaws.

"There's no downside really of using Windows 7 through 2020 until you get to the point where you're out of extended support," he said.

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About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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