Three ways IT pros should prepare for Windows 10

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The latest release of the Windows 10 Technical Preview offers a useful look at where the OS is headed. Ed Bott highlights several key features and options that IT leaders will want to keep an eye on.

How much attention do you need to pay to Windows 10 today?

The correct answer might be "None at all." Most organizations can afford to hit the snooze button for another six months. It will be at least that long before Windows 10 is close to its final feature set.

For enterprises that have standardized on Windows 7 for desktop and portable PCs, Windows 10 is the logical next step. A wide-ranging, public preview program is available now. (For details on how to participate, see my hands-on installation guide at ZDNet.)

Your actual deployment of Windows 10 might not begin for another year or two, but it's worth keeping one eye on Windows 10 development today. Understanding where Windows is heading will save you time and energy down the line.

1: Prepare for continuous updates

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For decades, Windows development has followed a predictable, even plodding pattern: Major releases arrived roughly every three years, with bug fixes and service packs delivered in the interim.

But beginning in 2012 with the release of Windows 8, Microsoft radically overhauled its software development and delivery methods. Windows 8 received two major updates, each containing significant new features, in its first two years. And with Windows 10 Microsoft is accelerating that pace. The Windows 10 Preview is delivering new releases — consisting of security updates, bug fixes, and major new features — at a previously unheard-of pace measured in weeks.

If the thought of your users getting monthly OS updates causes palpitations, you're not alone. To prepare yourself for this new fast-twitch world, consider a trial deployment of a handful of machines so that you can measure the amount of disruption these updates cause.

One feature worth looking at: The new unified Windows Update allows you to choose the pace at which feature updates are delivered (Figure A). The Fast ring gets you new updates as they're delivered, whereas the Slow ring lets you stay a build or two behind as other Preview program participants stumble over bugs.

Figure A

Figure A

2: Specify next-generation hardware

The hardware you buy in the next year or two is probably destined to run Windows 10 sometime within its useful life within your organization, so it's worth thinking ahead when drawing up specs for new devices.

One bit of good news: The system requirements for Windows 10 are the same as those for Windows 7 and 8.1. That means any existing hardware you've purchased in the past few years is probably upgradeable.

For new purchases, two features are worth looking out for:

  • Trusted Platform Module (TPM). This is a crucial part of the security infrastructure introduced in Windows 8 and extended in Windows 10. Most enterprise-class portable devices include a TPM chip.
  • USB Type-C. The venerable USB connector is finally getting a complete makeover. The new USB specification allows data transfer at speeds of up to 10 Gb/sec and can deliver power (up to 100W) over the same connection. In theory, that means portable PCs you purchase beginning later this year can use a single USB Type-C cable connection for multiple monitors, power, networking, and data. Best of all, the new connector is reversible.

Both of these hardware specs will be supported by Windows 10.

The TPM in particular should be high on your hardware checklist. The presence of a TPM will enable a new Windows 10 feature called Next Generation Credentials (Figure B), which allows you to enroll a device as trusted so that it acts as a second factor for authentication. (For more on this feature, see Microsoft reveals audacious plans to tighten security with Windows 10.)

Figure B

Figure B

3: Consider the new app platform

If your organization is typical, you have at least dozens and probably hundreds of line-of-business apps that have to be tested for compatibility before you can even think of an OS migration.

It might be worth considering an upgrade to the Modern app platform (the official name for what were once called Metro apps). If you shied away from the first generation of apps in Windows 8, some changes in Windows 10 should make it worth looking again.

For starters, apps for Windows 10 are universal, which means they can run on PCs, tablets, and phones, with only minor modifications to code. On conventional PCs, they can run in a window on the desktop instead of being constrained to full screen or snapped to one side.

There are also changes in the Windows Store aimed at making life easier for IT pros, including a web-based Store portal, specifically for organizations. Instead of being required to sideload apps, you can assign them to people within your organization. And Microsoft says you'll be able to use existing management tools — including System Center Configuration Manager, Microsoft Intune, and mobile device management (MDM) services—to control installation, app updates, and licenses.

The new Store (Figure C), with a streamlined layout that can run in a window on the desktop, is available as a beta in the current Windows 10 Technical Preview.

Figure C

Figure C

Over the next few months, more features will be added into the Windows 10 preview and more IT-specific information will become available. If you're not ready to dive into the current previews, just hit the snooze button and come back later.

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