Windows 10: Nearing the Finish Line (Part 3)

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

Introduction

In Part 1 of this series, we took a look at how Microsoft has made changes to Windows 10 that seek in some ways to backtrack and “undo” some of the more dramatic changes in Windows 8 that users did not embrace, and make the new hybrid desktop plus touch experience smoother. In Part 2, we started to look at Windows 10’s new features, including the Cortana personal digital assistant and the new Spartan web browser.

Now in the third and final part of this 3-part series, we’ll wrap it up with an up-close-and-personal look at Windows 10 networking in a business environment and what Microsoft has done to make this new version of Windows more appealing to its enterprise customers – so many of whom declined to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8/8.1.

More than just a pretty interface

Business users, like home users, have been resistant to the changes in the Windows 8/8.1 interface and in particular the lack of the familiar Start menu, as discussed in Part 1. Windows 10’s restoration of that basic landmark will go a long way toward reducing the learning curve for end users in an upgrade rollout. This is no small thing, because the loss of productivity when users have to learn vastly different ways of doing their work impacts the company’s bottom line and can even have a negative effect on its reputation in some cases.

However, the enterprise-friendliness of Windows 10 extends beyond the user-friendliness of the interface. With security and compliance a major concern for all businesses today, it should come as no surprise that Microsoft has made improvements to the security mechanisms in Windows 10, with special attention to the increasing mobility of the workforce. IT professionals will also be happy to learn that Microsoft is including more tools to make management easier, to aid in testing for software compatibility and to make upgrade rollouts easier.

Making change more palatable

Despite its recognition of and response to customer feedback that has resulted in more attention to the desktop experience, Microsoft hasn’t abandoned the Modern UI concept in Windows 10. Instead, the company is trying to make the two interfaces work more seamlessly together and make it easier for users to adapt to the use of Windows Store apps – when those tools are the best for the task at hand.

Toward that end, Windows 10 will include a new and improved unified App Store that is more amenable to businesses. Organizations will be able to purchase via volume licensing and will be able to reclaim or reuse licenses, or companies can create their own customized stores for their users where they can have control over what apps are available and can combine Store apps and company-owned apps.

WaaS (Windows as a Service)

In January, at its Windows 10 preview event in Redmond, Microsoft revealed some important information about its upgrade pricing plans and its licensing philosophy for Windows going forward – none of which came as a surprise to anyone who has been following what the company has said and done over the last year.

In keeping with its “cloud first, mobile first” mission as discussed by CEO Satya Nadella months before, at the preview event it was made clear that Windows as we have always known it – with each new version of the operating system constituting a new and separate product – is coming to an end. The future of Windows is WaaS, Windows as a Service, which fits nicely into the Everything as a Service model into which IT in general is moving at this time.

What does this mean to business and consumers? According to Terry Myerson (Microsoft Operating System Group chief) as reported by Mary Jo Foley, it means Windows version numbers will be meaningless; the OS will be continually updated for the lifetime of each device. This may or may not appeal to home users and hobbyists, but it’s likely to be a plus for businesses, which are more cognizant of the cost savings of putting their money into operational expenditures vs. capital expenditures and also more appreciative of the savings in administrative overhead that comes with (theoretically, at least) never again having to worry about rolling out OS upgrades.

The good news in regard to pricing is that those who are running Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 on their devices will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 at no cost, at least for one year following the official commercial release. Once upgraded, those devices will be continuously updated and this includes new features, not just security and reliability updates. This is particularly beneficial for those consumers and businesses who are still using Windows 7, since mainstream support for that operating system has come to an end (January 13, 2015), which means non-security updates will be available now only to those entities that have support contracts in place. Security updates will continue to be issued for five more years, until January 2020.

A more secure Windows – again

Microsoft touts each new version of Windows as the most secure yet, and it’s more than just a marketing claim; building a new OS provides an opportunity to build in new and better security features and to adapt those features to the ever-evolving threat landscape.

One of the most-mentioned new security-related features in Windows 10 is the ability to integrate data sharing across multiple devices. This is important because so many people today are constantly switching between desktop or laptop PC, tablet and phone. The OS has mechanisms to prevent the leakage of user credentials and tokens as users move from one service, application or device to another.

Other enterprise-centric security features focus on two factor authentication that requires users to enter a PIN or provide biometrics along with the device itself, which serves as the second factor. To implement this, users must enroll their device(s). All devices can be enrolled and act individually as authentication factors, or for better security only the mobile phone would be enrolled and it would act like a smart card or token that the user carries with him/her. Then the user can use that device (enabled with Bluetooth or wi-fi) to authenticate with others devices (PCs and tablets) or with networks or web services. If an organization has a public key infrastructure in place, you can issue certificates to serve as the credential on the device or if not, a cryptographically generated key pair can be generated by Windows itself to serve as the credential.

Organizations will also find that Windows 10 closes the data protection gap that existed between BitLocker encryption on the hard drive and Rights Management Services (RMS) to protect data that’s shared with others. The new operating system incorporates a data loss prevent (DLP) feature that is designed to keep corporate and personal data separate, and enable automatic encryption of corporate data, apps, email, etc. The really exciting thing is that the protected content is available across both PC and mobile platforms.

You can read more about the Windows 10 security features here.

New in Networking

Moving over to the server side, the next version of Windows Server which is currently being called Windows 10 Server is expected to have many enhancements to networking functionality, beginning with the network controller that sits between the physical hardware and virtual networks through Virtual Machine Manager (VMM), Operations Manager and Azure Pack.

This enables a set of virtual network functions that include a software load balancer, Hypber-V network virtualization layer 2 and layer 3 gateway, a virtual firewall and VPN gateways. There is support for high speed networking and better scalability in the virtual edge gateway. You can set policies on the network controller through the distributed data center firewall to protect your virtual networks.

The Network Performance and Diagnostics Service (NPDS) can carry out active health monitoring with awareness of fault domains. It can measure packet loss and latency and do an analysis to determine what action should be taken when a network link fails.

In addition to new technologies, many of the old ones are getting tweaked for better functionality and performance. There are expected to be improvements to IPAM (IP Address Management) that are designed to better manage multiple DNS servers and allow you to see all the records that are associated with a particular IP address. However, these changes weren’t present in the technical preview so whether or not they will make it into the final release is yet to be seen.

Summary

At the time of this writing, we still have over half a year to go before the official release of Windows 10 client, if Microsoft brings it out in October as expected, and we have no information regarding the release dates for Windows 10 Server (or whatever it ends up being called). We do know, however, that Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to make this next (and apparently last traditional) version of Windows compelling enough so that both consumers and enterprises will be eager to upgrade from whichever previous OS they’re using. The previews we’ve seen show a lot of promise, but only the future will tell whether they will have another Windows 7 style winner on their hands when Windows 10 reaches the finish line.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

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