What Windows 9 … uh, 10 … means for business

The biggest surprise of yesterday’s launch of the new Windows operating system wasn’t just that they skipped a number. It was that Microsoft has absorbed all the criticism of Windows 8, and is ready to put out an operating system it’s hoping businesses will fall in love with.

First off, the name change: Microsoft says it decided to name the OS Windows 10 because it wouldn’t be right to refer to it as Windows 9. (A slightly more cynical take is that they’re trying to get as far away from Windows 8 as possible.) But after all the to-do and jokes about the name go away, what we’re left with is an operating system that seems to be built with business users in mind.

Key Windows 10 features

First and foremost, yes, the start menu is back and in its normal and rightful place. But tiles aren’t going away. The design is being called a hybrid of Windows 7 and Windows 8, with instantly recognizable features of both. As Joe Belfiore, a VP of the OS group put it:

Windows 10 will be familiar to end users whether they’re coming from Windows 7 or Windows 8. The workers will be immediately productive.

That should be welcome news for IT departments. Windows 8 struggled to reach 20% of the OS market, in large part because it was considered confusing to many users and was near universally reviled. Another plus for businesses: The platform will be essentially the same across all devices. While that may be convenient for users, the real benefit could be for IT departments. Windows phones and tablets could already work with Mobile Device Management (MDM) programs, but now users’ laptops and desktops can also be managed with these services. That could provide valuable controls, such as remote wiping and pushing out updated apps to users. And it could even extend out to Internet of Things devices. And Microsoft promises that “all traditional management systems in use today” will work with Windows. Also, apps built for Windows 10 will work across all devices, it was announced.

Other helpful features

Some features of the new Windows won’t be business-centric per se, but should help with productivity and ease of use. For instance:

  • Task View to switch easily between open apps and programs
  • The ability to resize the Start menu to any shape users would like, and
  • A simplified, slicker UI.

In all, since this OS is similar to both Windows 7 and Windows 8, it should be an easier adjustment for users. With any luck, that will mean less training will be needed and the transition to the operating system can be smoother than in the past.

What we don’t know

Of course, all this information is based on a presentation of a product that’s not even out yet. A preview is available for download, and you may want to check out the video of the new OS below. But perhaps the two biggest unaddressed concerns were the OS’s launch date and price. It’s been announced for early 2015, but details beyond that aren’t widely known yet. Whether Windows 10 is a fit for your organization obviously can’t be determined by one announcement alone. It’ll take more investigation than that. Early positive signs however point to this being a good fit for an upgrade from either 7 or 8 (and yes, even XP if your organization is still holding out on that operating system). The biggest considerations will likely be:

  • Cost. Microsoft may be able to cut ties with its unpopular Windows 8, but most companies can’t afford to keep switching operating systems because one turned out to be a dud.
  • Timing. Just as Windows 8 users might not be ready for a switch yet, extended support for Windows 7 isn’t set to go away until Jan. 2020. For most people, Windows 7 still works just fine and switching for the sake of something new and shiny wouldn’t be necessary. XP shops would be wise to consider switching sooner than later, however.
  • Compatibility. New operating systems always have a period of working out the kinks. You’ll want to test as much as possible before making a switch.