Software

Windows 10 support shake-up: Small businesses will still struggle to cope with "update churn"

Questions raised over why Microsoft hasn't eased the upgrade pressure on small and medium-sized businesses.

Microsoft has been accused of ignoring small businesses and home PC users with its latest changes to how it supports Windows 10.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced it was reducing how frequently large businesses and schools would have to update PCs to the latest version of Windows 10.

The change follows an open letter to Microsoft from sysadmins, who said keeping up with the twice-yearly feature updates to Windows 10 was causing them "fatigue".

Under the changes the annual Fall update to Windows 10 will now be supported with security patches and fixes for 30 months, giving admins more time before switching PCs to a new version of the OS.

However, the 30-month support will only be available to those running the Enterprise or Education editions of Windows 10. Those running Home or Pro editions will still only enjoy 18 months of support for Windows 10 builds rolled out in Fall.

SEE: Information security policy (Tech Pro Research)

The decision not to extend support for all editions of the OS has left Microsoft facing the charge it's not meeting the needs of small businesses, which often run the Pro edition of Windows 10, or of home users.

"The churn of these feature updates are too much for small businesses and home users as well," said Susan Bradley, a Microsoft-certified Small Business Server and Security Most Valued Professional who moderates the patchmanagement.org email list.

Earlier this year, Bradley wrote an open letter to various Microsoft executives, including CEO Satya Nadella, outlining the hundreds of grievances members of the patchmanagement.org group had reported to her about how Windows is updated.

While she said she was "happy that Microsoft acknowledged that enterprises need more time and that the fast pace of feature updates isn't sustainable", she added, "for anyone not running Enterprise or Education versions, we will still need to pay attention to feature release dates.

"For smaller customers, this is still a problem. I'm a small business. I still have to be moving between feature releases at a faster pace and I don't have the same resources for application compatibility and tools provided by Microsoft to help me."

Home and Pro Windows 10 users often lack access to the same tools available to help enterprises migrate PCs to newer versions of Windows. Yesterday Microsoft announced it will roll out a free service to help ensure new versions of Windows 10 are compatible with a firm's existing apps, but only to Enterprise and Education editions of Windows 10.

The options for deferring updates are also different in Windows 10 Enterprise and Pro editions than in the Home edition. While Enterprise and Pro users can defer an update for more than a year, Home users don't have the option to delay updates.

The lack of deferral is a problem for some users, who say they shouldn't be forced to upgrade to a potentially buggy version of the OS. In her earlier letter, Bradley said too many bugs were slipping through pre-release tests under the Windows Insider Program.

"It appears that there is a breakdown in the testing process. The Windows 10 insider process is not able to identify issues on released products. When your own products break with these releases, it is clear that current testing processes are not good enough," she said at the time.

Steve Kleynhans, research VP at analyst house Gartner, said the extension of support for the Fall feature update was a significant move by Microsoft.

"This is a really important and positive shift from Microsoft that has profound impacts on enterprises. The key is that it removes the incessant pressure to keep up with feature updates twice a year," he said.

"Microsoft has essentially established an 'approved' annual cadence which, while still pretty frequent, is much easier to map as a process to annual business activities. Additionally, by going with 30 months it has provided the freedom to match the cadence to the specific needs of each organization."

The fact the longer support windows is only available to Enterprise and Education editions of Windows 10 "isn't really a surprise", he added.

"Microsoft placed similar restrictions on the support extensions back in February and has been repositioning the roles of Windows Pro and Windows Enterprise since the first release of Windows 10," he said.

"Going forward Microsoft will be pretty clear about Enterprise being the version for any organization with centrally managed IT. Pro is for individuals and small businesses, and the split between the two will become wider."

Christopher Voce, research director with analyst house Forrester, said the changes were an acknowledgement that "traditional approaches and tools" for IT management "aren't equipped to deal with more frequent enhancements to Windows 10 and the apps people use".

An additional advantage for Microsoft, he said, will be encouraging more companies to move towards a subscription model for Windows.

Microsoft had no further comment on the changes.

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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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