Windows 10 Enterprise isn't just for large businesses; it's the version designed for organizations requiring more options for deploying, managing and controlling Windows — and now, more control over upgrades and the support lifecycle.
Windows 10 Enterprise isn't just a volume licensing option requiring an Enterprise Agreement or Microsoft Products & Services Agreements, which is how large businesses buy it (per user as a User Subscription licence, or per device with Software Assurance). It's also available from Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) partners as a subscription.
With per-user licences, as soon as a user with a Windows 10 Enterprise licence sets up their account on a PC running Windows 10 Pro, it gets seamlessly upgraded to Windows Enterprise (and downgraded again if the subscription runs out or they remove their account).
It has all the business features of Windows 10 Pro, like BitLocker disk encryption and tools like Autopilot that configure new PCs with company settings as soon as users sign in with an Azure Active Directory account. It also adds extra security features like Credential Guard (virtualisation that protects login credentials) and Application Guard to protect the Edge browser or the post-breach analysis tools in Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection.
Windows Enterprise has more reports in Desktop Analytics. Previously called Windows Analytics, this uses Microsoft OMS (an Azure-based management and monitoring service) and System Center Configuration Manager to monitor PCs. Windows 10 Pro monitoring includes upgrade readiness and whether updates are up to date; Windows 10 Enterprise can report on device health and, now, application compatibility.
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It also has a much longer support lifecycle than Windows 10 Pro for the six-monthly release of Windows in the Semi-Annual Cycle. The four currently supported feature updates (1607, 1703, 1709 and 1803) all get 30 months of support from their initial release date. That means they get an extra year of servicing and support over Windows Home or Pro.
Feature updates that come out in March each year, starting with 1903 in March 2019, get 18 months of support, like Windows Home and Pro (and Office 365 Pro Plus). But feature updates that come out in September, starting with the next release 1809, get 30 months of support from release date.
September release: the new enterprise standard
That difference in support life means the September release is likely to become standard in enterprises rather than the March release, Jared Spataro, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Office and Windows Marketing, told TechRepublic.
"We expect with the longer timeframe they will end up snapping to the Fall release. Microsoft wanted to keep one release on the shorter support cycle, to match the organizations that have moved to faster updates. Eighteen months is exactly what they need for semi-annual," Spataro said.
The September release was chosen for the longer support in part because it coincides with Microsoft's annual Ignite conference, Spataro said: "They come back from that ready to engage. We also looked at when budget cycles are happening, and people engaging after the December holiday."
The longer support means that enterprises can wait longer to adopt a new release of Windows, because it will still be supported for long enough to be worth installing and using. Both Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise allow you to defer an update from being installed for a year after release; for Windows 10 Pro that means just six months of support, but Windows 10 Enterprise gets 18 months of support.
"Previously, organizations could only skip one release of Windows if they wanted to stay in support, and that will still be the case for Windows Pro," analyst Web Miller from Directions on Microsoft told TechRepublic. "As we saw with the stretch to 24 months previously, the six-month release interval with a limited 18-month support window wasn't working for some significant number of customers. Now, Windows Enterprise (and Education) can effectively skip three releases, by skipping every other September release," he added.
SEE: Information security policy (Tech Pro Research)
That might end up pushing more organizations to choose Windows 10 Enterprise over Windows 10 Pro, Miller suggested. "Some businesses have wanted to run Pro and the features may have met their needs, but the support window didn't. Now, if they come to the conclusion that they need that support, they have an avenue [to get it]."
Organizations wanting much longer support cycles in order to avoid regular upgrades have to pick the Long Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) of Windows Enterprise, which gets five years of mainstream support and ten years of extended support, with a new release that organizations can upgrade to or skip every two to three years. But Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC doesn't include Edge, the Microsoft Store, Cortana or Microsoft apps like Mail, Calendar and OneNote, and isn't suitable for running Office. It's for point-of-sale systems, ATMs or PCs that control hardware like medical or factory equipment, so it's not a way around regular Windows upgrades for user PCs.
There's no equivalent for Windows 10 of the Extended Security Updates (ESU) that Microsoft just announced for Windows 7. These are available for both Windows 7 Professional and Enterprise until January 2023, although the price goes up every year as an incentive to upgrade to Windows 10 (and there's a discount if you have Windows 10 Enterprise subscriptions). The ESU also keeps Office 365 ProPlus supported on Windows 7; Microsoft has also extended Office 365 ProPlus support on Windows 8.1, and Office 2016 connecting to Office 365, until 2023.
App compatibility: a blocker for enterprises
Application compatibility worries are often what blocks enterprises from upgrading to new releases of Windows. "If we ask customers why they haven't moved to Windows 10, or why they're not keeping up with updates, they tell us: 'we're really afraid of app compatibility problems — we feel we have to test as thoroughly for an update as we did for an upgrade, so you're asking us to upgrade every six months'," Spataro explained.
The application compatibility reports in Device Analytics are how Microsoft is hoping to make sure that 30 months is a long enough support window.
"You can take an inventory of what's running, who's running it, at what frequency," said Spataro. "You can assess the app compatibility with the latest feature updates, you can see the surface area we updated and we will tell you if we anticipate from telemetry, or by looking at API changes, that we think there could be an issue for you."
Windows 10 Enterprise support also includes the new Desktop App Assure service 'at no additional cost'. This covers issues with Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus compatibility. "If you have an issue, we literally take a support ticket and assign an engineer who will work with you until that issue is fixed," Spataro explained. "In the past, our support programs might have helped you to remediate your app, and we'll do that as a last resort. But as much as possible, if we can make changes to our product to fix the issues then we'll do that. We want to fix your stuff, but also if you have a problem we believe you will be representative of other customers."
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Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.