Microsoft's offer to upgrade some business customers to Windows 10 for free is the latest in a concerted effort to push firms to begin deployments.
Microsoft is using both the carrot and the stick to persuade firms to begin production deployments of Windows 10 this year—with analysts predicting these tactics could be about to pay off.
Redmond's latest incentive to businesses is the offer of a free upgrade to Windows 10 to some companies running Windows 10 Enterprise edition alongside Windows 7 and 8.
The free upgrade for remaining Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs will be available to firms that run Windows 10 Enterprise and pay for it on a subscription basis, via the Enterprise E3 and E5 plans of Microsoft's Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program. It will apply to the Windows 7 and 8 Pro editions.
Microsoft is stepping up efforts to encourage firms to accelerate Windows 10 rollouts. Microsoft recently released a tool to help businesses check compatibility and resolve issues when upgrading to Windows 10 and has been promoting the OS' improved security following the Anniversary Update last summer, which Microsoft says hardened its defences against recent zero-day attacks.
J P Gownder, principal analyst with Forrester, says Windows 10 deployments by business will pick up this year, although this latest offer of a free upgrade to E3 and E5 subscribers, who tend to be small and medium-sized businesses, will have a limited impact on its own.
"Moves like this one reduce the friction associated with enterprise upgrades; for example, if a company had budgeted for CSP but not for Windows 10 upgrade, perhaps that organization can move more quickly to Windows 10," he said.
"I think it will help at the margins to drive quicker upgrades, but I wouldn't look for it to be a panacea, since organizations face other frictions, like application testing and upgrades, as well.
"Still, we believe 2017-2018 will be strong years for enterprise upgrades to Windows 10."
A milestone release
Among the recent developments surrounding Windows 10, of particular significance is the release of the Anniversary Update, build 1607, to the Current Branch for Business servicing option, making it available for widespread enterprise deployments. The update's delayed rollout to business allowed them to largely bypass the bugs that affected Home editions of Windows 10.
Analyst house Gartner believes the availability of the Anniversary Update will drive production deployments, thanks to IT managers perceiving the release as a more robust version of Windows 10.
"The Anniversary Update for Windows 10 introduces new features and will be the version most endpoint computing managers will actually deploy in the enterprise," predicts Steve Kleynhans, research VP at Gartner.
Microsoft will continue to add new business-focused features to Windows 10 this year. Coming early in 2017 is Windows Defender Application Guard, which is designed to help protect firms against online threats by adding container-based isolation to Windows 10's Edge browser.
Other enterprise-focused changes in the forthcoming Creators Update, expected in April, include improvements to Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection's ability to detect and respond to network attacks, an upgrade to the Windows Analytics dashboard to display additional information about the composition of IT estates, a new tool for in-place UEFI conversion, and a mobile application management feature for protecting data on employees' personal devices.
Microsoft's other tactic for applying upgrade pressure to business has been to run down the appeal of Windows 7, which remains in extended support until January 2020.
Microsoft has released few hard figures on adoption of Windows 10 by business, but did say last year that Windows 10 was being adopted "150 percent faster" than Windows 7. However, despite the continued growth, Microsoft has already admitted that it won't hit its target of one billion devices running Windows 10 by summer 2018.
Microsoft can be expected to continue offering a mix of incentives, says Forrester's Gownder, as it pursues its "overarching goal for Windows" to "synchronize its ecosystem around Windows 10".
"The more users move to Windows 10, the more appealing the platform will be to developers, and the more easily Microsoft can tie together other products and services with the platform."
Tom Mainelli, VP of Devices at analysts IDC, stated Microsoft's ultimate goal more plainly.
"At the end of the day, Microsoft wants to move every PC with Windows 7 and 8.1 over to Windows 10."
Read more about Windows 10
- Windows 10: The smart person's guide
- Windows 10: The 10 biggest controversies and surprises in 2016
- Windows 10 updates will soon eat less bandwidth and battery life
- Windows 10: Ten missing and highly anticipated features due in 2017
- Windows 10 Anniversary Update: Watch out for these nasty surprises
- Microsoft to make Windows 10 upgrades free for more Windows 10 subscription plan users (ZDNet)