IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Windows as a Service, One Year Later

With the Anniversary Update for Windows 10 now available, we have a much better handle on what “Windows as a service” really means. By Matt Whitlock
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There is cause for embracing “the new” in Windows 10, especially when compared with Windows 7.

“Innovation by iteration.” That’s a phrase I’ve used frequently to describe how a company like Google has been able to take over the mobile market with its Android operating system, and is now poised to work its way into notebooks and desktops over the coming years. Android itself, especially early on, wasn’t exactly a noteworthy product (nor were many other Google web services that are now dominant).

Changing the product rapidly, over the course of many smaller updates and upgrades, has enabled Google to keep Android fresh with features while avoiding the big-bang release cycle that keeps the same product in the market for years at a time. Avoiding big-bang releases means fewer changes in the product each update, with less chance for huge compatibility problems and fewer issues with users adapting to new features (while actually getting new features).

When Microsoft announced that Windows 10 would mark the end of its three-year (big-bang) development cycle, opting instead for a “service” approach that would bring more frequent updates to security and features, few could have guessed what that would mean for the future of Windows. As the world’s most popular OS for desktops and notebooks, the idea of Windows as a service (i.e., continual major updates from Microsoft) sent chills down the spine of anyone who supports PCs in business. With the Anniversary Update for Windows 10 now available, basically one year after the operating system’s public release, we now have a much better handle on what “Windows as a service” means.

Microsoft’s New Mojo
Before I get too far into this analysis, I’ll say that the current Windows development model is the best thing Microsoft has ever done for Windows, and it’s a model I hope the company will follow for all of its software products. In short, Microsoft leverages a large pool of what the company calls “insiders” (basically beta testers) to use and provide feedback on Windows while it’s still in development. Microsoft has used the public to beta test products in the past, but by the time Windows would make it to testers development was essentially done and only bug fixes would be addressed.

The “insiders” approach early in the development phase allows for Microsoft to essentially crowdsource features with real-time feedback, giving actual users much more opportunity to make a difference. Crowdsourcing alone doesn’t a great product make, but engaged users from all walks of life who are passionate about Windows is a huge step toward an end result of a product people will love instead of tolerate.

More important, however, is that an as-a-service development model solves a much bigger problem that has plagued Microsoft products for a very long time—polish. Windows 10 isn’t perfect, but it’s already the most polished version of Windows by a massive margin. Software developers often want to be working on the next big thing. Too often the core development team moves on (either to the next big version or a new project) when the product ships, and passes the project to another team to maintain (and in Microsoft’s case, that often meant ignored). By getting rid of the “it’s done” mentality, in-house developers remain invested and engaged to keep adding new features while polishing rough edges and squishing bugs, resulting in a product that gets better over time.

Better for Business (Hear Me Out)
Riding on the cutting edge of product updates isn’t exactly ideal for businesses, but neither is running a fleet of desktops on an eight-year-old OS nearing the end of its support cycle. The argument is that old software is tested, stable, more secure, and requires less training for users. There’s logic in that, for sure, and in mission-critical systems I agree that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it … to a point.

What’s important is that there is a balance. No matter what, there is always the potential for issues on an update or upgrade. No business should ever deploy major updates the day of release, but that doesn’t mean holding off on upgrades for six years, either.

Microsoft has various upgrade tiers designed to help businesses keep moving forward over time, but at a pace that makes sense. Windows Update for Business gives enough time for those rough edges to be smoothed out before deploying new features to users’ desktops, while the LTSB (Long Term Servicing Branch) for Windows 10 Enterprise is ideal for workhorse machines that rarely get user interaction, but instead perform one or more jobs in the background.

There is cause for embracing “the new” in Windows 10, however, particularly when compared with Windows 7. Frequently bringing users new features that may improve productivity is one benefit, and Windows 10 brings the latest security features that can help protect your customers.

5 Big Improvements in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update

Microsoft has added to Windows 10 since its release, but the Anniversary Update (codename Redstone) is biggest update yet. Click here to take a look at some of the notable improvements and changes in the latest iteration of Windows 10. >>

About the Author

Matt Whitlock is online director and technical editor for ChannelProSMB.com.

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