On January 21, Terry Myerson announced that a free upgrade for Windows 10 will be made available to customers running Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices who upgrade in the first year after launch*. This is something we think consumers and many small businesses will be really excited about, given it is the first time we have offered a free upgrade on this scale. We believe this will allow hundreds of millions of customers to upgrade to Windows 10 soon after launch, create a broad opportunity for our ecosystem partners to drive innovation, and deliver value to all Windows 10 customers. And as Terry said last week, this is much more than a one-time upgrade: once a Windows device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will continue to keep it current via Windows Update for the supported lifetime** of the device – at no cost. We think of this as Windows as a Service, and think that it’s remarkable news for many of our customers and partners. As an example, customers running Windows 7 Pro and Windows 8/8.1 Pro, like small businesses, have an opportunity to upgrade to Windows 10 for free in the first year. It would allow them to take advantage of the latest innovation, and enable their devices to stay up to date with latest features and security updates going forward. We recommend those customers take advantage of the upgrade within the first year, as soon as it is available. There’s also more information about the offer on our website.
For enterprise customers and partners, we will continue to deliver exclusive value and offer extensive flexibility in how Windows 10 is deployed and managed as Windows evolves to become a service. For companies that require these enterprise-grade capabilities, Windows Software Assurance (SA) will continue to offer the best and most comprehensive benefits. Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise are not included in the terms of free Windows 10 Upgrade offer we announced last week, given active Software Assurance customers will continue to have rights to upgrade to Windows 10 enterprise offerings outside of this offer – while also benefitting from the full flexibility to deploy Windows 10 using their existing management infrastructure.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a lot of people since our January 21 announcement. I have heard a few questions about how we will deliver Windows as a Service and what it means to deliver new features to the same device. Rather than waiting for the next major release, Microsoft will provide new features and functionality and deliver security updates and critical fixes on a regular basis. We believe this will mean that Windows 10 will keep getting better, more productive and more secure over time.
Windows 10 helps keep enterprise customers more secure and up to date
Now I would like to expand on what this upgrade announcement means for enterprise customers and partners specifically. We know that many of our customers expect full flexibility and control on an ongoing basis – the ability to pick the speed of innovation that is right for each group of its users, rather than rely on a one size fits all solution. With Windows 10, our goal is to deliver a solution for that need.
We often hear from business customers that they are working hard to adapt their current systems, and mindsets, to a world that is rapidly changing. A world shaped by people bringing their own devices into the workplace, cloud computing, the disappearing network perimeter, and other technology shifts.
Many consumers today expect their devices to receive ongoing feature updates without having to take an action. However, we understand that businesses require more control in how updates are delivered, and at what pace.
For example, systems powering hospital emergency rooms, air traffic control towers, financial trading systems, factory floors, just to name a few, may need very strict change management policies, for prolonged periods of time. To support Windows 10 devices in these mission critical customer environments we will provide Long Term Servicing branches at the appropriate time intervals. On these branches, customer devices will receive the level of enterprise support expected for the mission critical systems, keeping systems more secure with the latest security and critical updates, while minimizing change by not delivering new features for the duration of mainstream (five years) and extended support (five years). On Long Term Servicing branches, customers will have the flexibility to deliver security updates and fixes via Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) which allows full control over the internal distribution of updates using existing management solutions such as System Center Configuration Manager or to receive these updates automatically via Windows Update.
We also learned from customers that while having control of mission critical environments is important; they also have many end user devices that are not necessarily mission-critical. Managing those devices as mission critical systems results in significant, unnecessary costs and complexity, while additionally depriving business users of access to the latest functionality. Many IT organizations have told us they would like to get out of the business of managing end-user devices. They are looking for ways to keep devices up to-date with more discretion than simply treating them the same way they treat consumer devices.
To that end, we are introducing a new approach for business customers, which we are referring to as the Current branch for Business. By putting devices on the Current branch for Business, enterprises will be able to receive feature updates after their quality and application compatibility has been assessed in the consumer market, while continuing to receive security updates on a regular basis. This gives IT departments’ time to start validating updates in their environments the day changes are shipped broadly to consumers, or in some cases earlier, if they have users enrolled in the Windows Insider Program. By the time Current branch for Business machines are updated, the changes will have been validated by millions of Insiders, consumers and customers’ internal test processes for several months, allowing updates to be deployed with this increased assurance of validation. Enterprises will be able to decide if they want to receive updates automatically via Windows Update, or via WSUS to have control through management tools over how the updates are distributed in their environments.
Businesses choosing to take advantage of connecting end user machines to Windows Update may experience a reduction in management costs, quicker access to security updates and critical fixes and access to the latest innovation from Microsoft on an ongoing basis. Keeping non-mission critical end user devices on the Current branch for Business, while receiving updates automatically via Windows Update, is a best practice for Windows 10 that we recommend for many enterprise users.
As we introduce new enterprise features over time, we expect to provide new Long Term Servicing Branches at appropriate time intervals, which will incorporate new functionality. Customers will be able to move devices easily from the Long Term Servicing branches they are currently on, to the next Long Term Servicing branch, as well as be able to skip one – using in place upgrade technology in Windows 10. We are committed to providing customers reasonable notice before a Long Term Servicing branch is declared, in order to help with deployment planning. In addition, IT professionals will be able to move user devices from a Long Term Servicing branch to a Current branch for Business to stay up-to-date with latest feature updates; and alternatively, move a user device from Current branch for Business to the next available Long Term Servicing branch when needed.
We understand the importance of having an initial Long Term Servicing branch available for enterprise customers to begin testing as soon as possible with Windows 10, and as a result we plan to deliver our first Windows 10 Long Term Servicing branch in the same time frame as Windows 10 market availability. We encourage customers to start testing the first Long Term Servicing branch as soon as it becomes available.
Based on what we are hearing from customers, we expect most will take a mixed approach in how they keep their Windows 10 systems up to date. They will likely target a different pace of updates for different users and systems, depending on the specific business needs of each group.
When discussing moving to a Windows as a Service model, the question of application and device compatibility is often top of mind for customers. As I mentioned before, our intention is to help ensure that existing apps “just work” based on addressing challenges that many organizations experienced as part of Windows XP to Windows 7 migrations, and we are working to help ensure excellent compatibility between Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10. This also applies to hardware: we are designing Windows 10 to have the same overall minimum hardware requirements as Windows 7 and Windows 8, making it possible to run Windows 10 on your existing devices noting some new features may require new hardware capabilities, and software or firmware updates from device manufacturers and ISVs. We are working with our device and ISV ecosystem to help ensure broad support for Windows 10.
As customers evaluate Windows 10, we encourage them to profile user devices, taking advantage of the range of options Microsoft offers to help enterprise customers keep all devices more secure, compliant and up-to-date in accordance with the needs of the business. We look forward to our continued conversation on this with our customers and partners as we go on this journey together of transforming Windows to a service.
Join the Windows Insider Program and try out the next Windows 10 Technical Preview
If you haven’t done so already, I hope you’ll join the Windows Insider Program and download the next Windows 10 Technical Preview. Let us know what you think via the Windows Feedback app directly within the product. With your feedback we’re aiming to make this the best release of Windows ever for our enterprise customers.
*Hardware and software requirements apply. Feature availability may vary by device. Some editions excluded. More details at http://www.windows.microsoft.com.
**Details on our device’ supported lifetime policy will be shared at a later time.