“1 billion is a big number”

In the last few months I have participated in multiple discussions about Microsoft’s goal of getting Windows 10 on 1 billion devices in the first 2-3 years of its availability. 

That opening quote is shared with me from one particular person on a consistent basis and it is very accurate and presents a challenge for the Redmond company.

They do not want to nor can they afford to miss this goal.

In early January Microsoft touted that Windows 10 now has over 200 million active users and that is the fastest uptake of any previous Windows operating system ever for the company. Now, it is a free update so that makes it a very attractive offer plus there will be a big bump in upgraders as the yearlong free offer ends on 29 July 2016.

So things have started off very well for the new OS despite the wide fluctuation in the Windows 10 Experience itself between users and much of that can be attributed to the wide variety of hardware that is out there running Windows 10. In the first month alone there were over 90,000 different PC/tablet configurations that got upgraded. If an OEM is now onboard with updating some of their drivers that can make for a bad experience.

However, while Microsoft understands consumers can be some of their most vocal supporters and detractors, getting Windows 10 into enterprise/education environments is one of their top priorities.

Today, in a blog post from Terry Myerson the Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group, Microsoft makes their case for pushing Windows 10 into more enterprise environments by changing what hardware they will support Windows 7 and 8.1 on down the road.

The blog post starts off talking about all the great hardware that was unveiled at CES 2016 last week and contains multiple quotes from partners about the progress on Windows 10 and moving the safety and security aspect of computing forward.

According to Myerson, more than 76% of the company’s enterprise customers are actively testing Windows 10 with over 22 million devices running the OS in both enterprise and education environments.

He also confirms that this shift in the company’s approach does not mean they are abandoning their Windows 7 and 8.1 enterprise users and each will continue to be supported based on their lifecycle dates of 14 Jan 2020 and 10 Jan 2023 respectively.

However, Myerson does lay out a new approach when it comes to the combination of new hardware and the operating system that will be supported on it:

Going forward, as new silicon generations are introduced, they will require the latest Windows platform at that time for support. This enables us to focus on deep integration between Windows and the silicon, while maintaining maximum reliability and compatibility with previous generations of platform and silicon. For example, Windows 10 will be the only supported Windows platform on Intel’s upcoming “Kaby Lake” silicon, Qualcomm’s upcoming “8996” silicon, and AMD’s upcoming “Bristol Ridge” silicon.

As for what hardware will continue to have Windows 7 and 8.1 support:

Through July 17, 2017, Skylake devices on the supported list will also be supported with Windows 7 and 8.1. During the 18-month support period, these systems should be upgraded to Windows 10 to continue receiving support after the period ends. After July 2017, the most critical Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 security updates will be addressed for these configurations, and will be released if the update does not risk the reliability or compatibility of the Windows 7/8.1 platform on other devices.

Of course this means Windows 7 and 8.1 installed on hardware prior to Skylake should still be supported after 17 July 2017 until the expiration of their respective lifecycles as noted earlier for Windows 7 and 8.1.

By making this move it allows the company and its partners to innovate with Windows and take advantage of the new hardware that is coming to market without disrupting the code base of Windows 7 that was built to support older technologies.

In wrapping things up Myerson added:

…we are prioritizing transparency with enterprises on where to find the highest reliability and best supported Windows experience:  Windows 10 on any silicon, Windows 7 on the down-level silicon it was designed for, or a device on the support list. Although this silicon and platform alignment is entirely consistent with modern technology trends, we understand the need for our enterprise customers to adapt to it in the Windows context— and we stand by ready to partner with them on their Windows deployments. Companies of any size interested in upgrading to Windows 10 should contact their Microsoft technology representative today for assistance.

We are committed to helping our customers embrace the latest innovation, enabled by the significant leap forward in silicon innovation combined with Windows 10, and delivered on incredible hardware.

Of course there are big benefits to pushing partners and customers onto Windows 10, the current and latest version of Windows, such as increased system security on many levels plus the performance enhancements including battery life, WiFi performance, etc.

Oh yeah, it also helps them reach that 1 billion number as well.

Next week Microsoft will publish a list of the new Skylake devices that will support Windows 7 and 8.1 so their enterprise partners can choose to upgrade now to retain full access to those OS’s. Moving forward they will continue to work with those OEM partners to ensure regular validation of Windows Updates with the intent of reducing potential regressions including security concerns, and ensure all drivers will be on Windows Update.

If you ever wanted an example of Windows as a Service and having one supported version of Windows, then this is it. By stating they will only support the latest hardware with the latest version of Windows Microsoft is beginning to set expectations on what customers will see from the company and it will allow Microsoft to optimize and consolidate the efforts needed to support those customers.

That is a time and money investment, which should result in a savings, that reflects on the bottom line and is important as a publicly traded company.

It will still be a mixed bag of operating systems out there in the world for now but this move will likely result in us never seeing the widespread retention of OS’s like we do today.

What do you think of this support policy shift for Microsoft?