By Jen Sweeney
Just two months into 2016 and Windows 10 has already made the news dozens of times. In January, Microsoft issued a clarification of its support policy and noted that it would be significantly limiting the length of time it will support newer PCs running Windows 7 and 8.1. On Feb. 2, the company said it would start rolling out Windows 10 as an automatically downloaded “recommended update.” The approach itself wasn’t new information—Microsoft stated its plans in October and said it would begin in “early 2016.” But the announcement did revive the issue some users have had with Microsoft’s opacity regarding Windows 10 updates.
On Feb. 9, after being urged by users to do so, Microsoft launched Windows 10 Update History, a site that includes a summary of notable changes for each update, plus links to more details.
There’s little doubt that more will change between now and when your organization migrates to Windows 10, but if you keep the following three things top of mind, you can minimize the confusion.
1. (Almost) everyone is upgrading
According to Microsoft, Windows 10 is active on more than 200 million devices—22 million of which are in business and education—making its adoption the fastest of any version of Windows.
However, the company will not rest until it meets its goal of installing Windows 10 on 1 billion devices by next year. The rollout of Windows 10 as a recommended update that began earlier this month should have an impact. The effort has been described as an “aggressive push” and is aimed at Windows 7 and 8.1 users.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) will also nudge Microsoft closer to its goal. Last week, Microsoft reported that the DOD will migrate 4 million devices to Windows 10 by February 2017. The DOD’s move is notable for a number of reasons, reports Ars Technica’s Peter Bright, and suggests that “at least one large, security-sensitive enterprise operator is satisfied with the controls that Microsoft provides.”
2. The traditional migration is dead. Long live the frequent update.
Proclaiming that the traditional migration is dead isn’t hyperbole—it’s spot-on. Companies are implementing new versions in less time—nine months from preliminary research and decision-making to completion, compared with 12 to 18 months in the past, according to Gartner.
While once acceptable behavior, clutching tight to old OS versions is viewed today as Luddism. It’s risky, too, considering that support lifespans have shrunk, and will continue to do so. In a Jan. 15 blog post, Terry Myerson, executive VP of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group, clarified the company’s support policy by stating that it will crop support for Windows 7 and 8.1 on the newest PCs by 30 months, and that, in the future, only new machines with the latest OS will be supported.
While once acceptable behavior, clutching tight to old OS versions is viewed today as Luddism. It’s risky, too, considering that support lifespans have shrunk, and will continue to do so
But that’s not to say that with one operating system, Microsoft radically altered enterprise IT. Many factors contributed to the shift—work has become more complex, collaborative, time-pressured, and dependent on technological competence. Organizations are expected to be more agile, customer-focused, competitive, and less hierarchical. With Windows 10, Microsoft began shoveling the dirt on the coffin.
3. The learning curve has changed, but it’s no less of a challenge.
In the past, migrations delivered sweeping user interface changes and functionality shifts, which sometimes caused company-wide disruption and often warranted comprehensive training. Smaller, more frequent updates will be different, for sure, but IT leaders should not assume they will be easier or less disruptive. Incremental changes to core employee tech tools—even minor tweaks—can be detrimental to productivity.
IT leaders need to adopt an approach that puts end-users at the center with consistent support, such as training, software coaching and access to self-help resources. Without it, their problems can turn into frustrations, diminished productivity, disruptions and an unwillingness to adopt more efficient approaches and technologies.
With its Windows 10 Update History hub, Microsoft has sent the message that it’s listening to feedback. However, some experts maintain that, while the company’s efforts are encouraging, providing bullet points and short blurbs is not enough.
In an article by Computerworld’s Gregg Keizer, one expert elaborated, “People will want more depth on what changes are occurring. Just knowing that there is a behavioral change [to the OS or a component] isn’t enough. We want to know how this is going to change for our users. How will it affect the help desk? So Microsoft’s not there yet.”
Rather than waiting for Microsoft to “get there,”1 IT leaders should direct their efforts toward putting an end-user-focused approach into practice. Considering what’s at stake, they may have no other choice. Stay tuned.
 The wait might not be very long. In an explanation about why it launched the Windows 10 Update History hub, Microsoft wrote: “We’re committed to our customers and strive to incorporate their feedback, both in how we deliver Windows as a service and the info we provide about Windows 10.”