For all the details accompanying Microsoft’s release of Windows 10 last week, industry observers are still seeking clarity on some key points.
For all the details accompanying Microsoft’s release of Windows 10 last week, industry observers are still seeking clarity on some key points. Some of the nomenclature is different, and some expected features have yet to be released.
When Microsoft ushered in the "Windows as a service" era with the July 29 launch of Windows 10, it effectively ditched its regular progression of Windows client releases -- namely, beta test version, release candidate, release-to-manufacturing (RTM), general availability (GA) and service pack releases .
So it’s unclear whether the July 29 release of Windows 10 was the GA release. A company official told journalist Paul Thurrott that Windows 10 never had an RTM, although Soma Somasegar, Microsoft's corporate vice president of the Developer Division, recently described the July 29 release as the RTM.
We could say that as of Aug. 1, it will be “generally available” for everyone, said Wes Miller, an analyst with independent consultancy Directions on Microsoft.
Miller sees a need for a new "dictionary" to come to terms with Microsoft's shifting nomenclature with Windows 10.
"Unfortunately, the Microsoft dictionary we had is no longer still useful, and so we're waiting for a new dictionary with the right terms," Miller said. Besides the confusion over what to call the various releases, there’s also murkiness surrounding the definition of a security update vs. a feature update, he said. "All of the updates that came for Windows 10, as we were getting ready for the RTM, were qualified as a security update, yet they all appeared to have some level of feature work in them, or fit and finish."
No service packs
Then there’s the question of what used to be called the service packs, which don’t exist in the Window-as-a-service world.
"No, Windows 10 will not have service packs," explained Stephen Kleynhans, vice president for the Mobile and Client Computing Group at Gartner Inc. "It will have monthly security updates, and every four months or so a feature update. Service packs disappeared with Windows 8. The long-term servicing branch will only get security updates and not the feature updates."
Miller also played down the notion of service packs in the Windows 10 era.
"I sure don't anticipate what we've always called a service pack," Miller said. "In many ways, we're going to probably see something similar to what happened with Windows 8.1, where you're going to get a series of smaller updates every month. They're going to roll up into more of a big uber update every three months and then a big point release at the end of it.”
In the old world, IT pros could rely on installing a new client every three years or longer. The adage, "wait for the first service pack" before installing a new Microsoft product was axiomatic. It was the common practice.
But if there's no service pack to wait for, then what should IT pros do next? Kleynhans suggested they should just take the time now to test Windows 10.
"The Windows 10 launch going on right now is not really about delivering a product for enterprises to rush out and install next week," Kleynhans said. "The vast majority of enterprises take their time to study and evaluate an OS. It is also critical to let the ecosystem that surrounds the OS mature. The parts of the OS ecosystem that Microsoft has direct control over will get updated over the next few months, but other parts of the ecosystem (third-party software support, Windows 10 skilled technicians, enterprise-class hardware tweaked for Windows 10 features) will take a little longer. We are telling customers to expect that everything will more or less come together in the early part of 2016. What they will get today and over the next few months is enough to get started with testing and planning but not really sufficient for broad deployment."
Miller concurred on a more extended horizon for IT pros considering Window 10 deployments. He sees another big release, similar to a service pack for the long-term servicing branch of Windows 10, arriving maybe on Aug. 1, 2016.
Microsoft officials have only said that Windows 10 will have a fall release, but the concept hasn't been explained too well. Supposedly, there will be a somewhat regular summer-and-fall release cadence of the Windows 10 client going forward. A rumored Redstone Windows 10 release in 2016 apparently follows that pattern.
Enterprise features to come
The July 29 Windows 10 release does not yet support some business features that Microsoft talked about leading up to the OS' launch. One example is the array of mobile device management features. They're coming soon, according to Kleynhans.
"The basic hooks for these features are in the Windows Pro product shipping [July 29] and will be in Enterprise (the following week)," Kleynhans said. "Microsoft's own tool (Intune) will be updated over the next couple of months, and some third parties have indicated they will have support very shortly."
Another missing feature is a unified Windows Store combining WinRT and Win32 apps and enabling things like the sideloading of apps, which allows for the transferring of data between two local devices. The experts appeared stumped on when those capabilities might arrive.
"I'm really not sure when this will happen … and it doesn't have to be aligned with an OS update as the Store itself is an app and service and can be updated any time," Kleynhans said. "Right now I would expect that basic functionality like sideloading will be added soon; a customized storefront is probably later, and integrating Win32 is probably early next year."
Miller added that developers are only just now getting the Visual Studio tooling to build new Universal Windows Platform apps for Microsoft's new Store.
Another missing Windows 10 capability with this month's release is "Enterprise Data Protection." It's a code word for a data leakage protection scheme that's designed to prevent end users from sharing restricted documents. Kleynhans indicated that's likely coming in the next Windows 10 update.
"This [Enterprise Data Protection] feature is expected to arrive in the first update to the OS," Kleynhans said. "By design, Windows 10 will receive new features every 4 months or so. The first of these would be expected in the late October or November timeframe. Some of the enterprise friendly features like EDP are likely to arrive with that fall update."
Miller noted a few other things not currently available with this Windows 10 release, but they are coming.
"In a few months, we are going to get a bunch of new features," Miller said. "And, ideally, it's going to include the unified OneDrive and OneDrive for Business that people had hoped would be there now, [and other features] that were deferred. Start Menu synchronization is not there. A lot of things [will need] fit and finish at the enterprise level that I think we'll expect to see in the same timeframe as a Surface Pro 4 release."
Windows 10: Good or bad?
Faster updates and streaming features aren't maybe what IT pros want to see. The experts offered their views on these aspects of Windows 10.
"Windows 10 will get a regular and ongoing stream of features updates. These replace the old 'next version' model and in the long run should be more straightforward and less disruptive for enterprises to deal with," Kleynhans said. "Rather than having to mount an enormous, costly, disruptive project once every three years (or, more likely, every six years), you get an ongoing series of updates that get dealt with as a regular operational process."
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