Over the past year, Microsoft has been rolling out their Windows 10 operating system (OS). For enterprise organizations, this includes “Big” Windows 10 for desktops and tablets, as well as Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise for smaller form factor devices. While this enterprise OS update has been relatively quick, the migration for some line of business (LoB) applications has been slower than anticipated. In an effort to stimulate enterprise transition to the newest version of Windows, Microsoft announced earlier this year that support for Windows 7 and 8.1 on systems using Intel’s 6th generation Skylake processor would end in July 2017, a decision that prompted swift backlash from Windows enterprise users.
Updating a business-wide enterprise OS can be a long and tedious process. Large enterprises often develop entire suites of custom applications that must be updated onto a new Windows OS using new code. In the wake of Windows 10’s delayed release, enterprise customers have communicated to Microsoft that the timeline between the summer 2015 launch and the 2017 end of support date is simply too short to comfortably make the update. In response, Microsoft has since pivoted, and in August 2016 issued a pair of extensions to its Skylake support policy: extended support for Windows 7 will now run through January 2020 while extended support for Windows 8.1 (still in mainstream support through January 2018) will be available until January 2023.
For the 350 million devices Microsoft claims are now running Windows 10, the extension will not affect much. However, most of those 350 million are consumer-grade hardware, while the majority of businesses are still running Legacy Windows operating systems on their desktops and/or mobile devices. For these customers, Microsoft’s support extension will continue much valued access to security patches and optional hotfixes, as well as an extended timeline for companies updating their enterprise OS.
This is good news for organizations that have become weary of hastily adopting generational Windows releases. Over the past 5-6 major launches, Microsoft has suffered from a series of fragmented and poorly integrated OS offerings, leading many businesses to remain on Windows versions that offer simple and reliable productivity features, e.g. Windows XP and 7, while shying away from versions that were considered less accessible or weighed down with consumer-facing features.
Ultimately, Microsoft’s reactivity to feedback from its enterprise customers reflects the changing enterprise OS ecosystem, especially for the small form factor in the enterprise mobility market. While many have expressed interest in continuing to use the Windows platform, Google’s Android for Work initiative has made the Android OS an increasingly powerful option for use on small form factor devices. At the risk of leaving enterprise users without adequate support (and also driving them towards Android) Microsoft’s policy amendment is as much about staying competitive as it is about customer service.
While invaluable to existing enterprise users, the extension comes as no surprise given the limited deployment of Windows Embedded Handheld 8.1 solutions through the first half of 2016. As the newest version of Windows 10 IoT begins to ship in Q3 2016, Microsoft’s support timeline will force organizations (and by extension their enterprise mobility vendors) to increasingly support these newer Windows platforms. Indeed many enterprise hardware vendors have already released handheld devices that are compatible with or operate on the Windows 10 IoT platform. While these shipments have yet to seriously impact the market, 39% of respondents from VDC’s 2016 Vertical Market Survey, who indicated they plan to deploy new devices within the next 18 months, are aiming to update their handheld devices to support Windows 10 IoT. Likewise anticipating that some businesses may wish to move away from Windows altogether, many enterprise and mobility-focused OEMs have increased their number of Android-based products as related improvements in Android security and mobile device management have made for a competitive alternative to Windows solutions. In fact, a recent VDC Research survey indicated that roughly 10% of respondents plan to migrate to an Android platform from an existing Windows operating system, with an additional 29% planning to take a wait and see approach to the success of Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise.
Moving forward, Microsoft’s push to standardize and modernize its Windows OS line will force organizations to keep all of their devices up to date, despite remaining hesitance to do so. Businesses looking to stay competitive will be transitioning away from Windows 7 over the next 1-2 years and away from Windows 8.1 over the next 2-3 years. For their part, enterprise mobility hardware manufacturers looking to capitalize on this transition in the software market will mirror this shift in their mobile computing devices. As a result, expect to see both a greater number of Windows 10 IoT devices and Android capable alternatives in the enterprise mobility market as Microsoft continues to establish its new generation of Windows software.
Co-authored by David Weber, Research Assistant
View the 2017 Enterprise Mobility & Connected Devices Research Outline to learn more.