Microsoft Puts Spotlight on Windows 10's Enterprise Features

Microsoft on Tuesday underscored the business capabilities of its next Windows operating system, which it unveiled at a press event in San Francisco.

Windows 10 (formerly code-named "Threshold") will become generally available sometime in 2015, Microsoft said at the event, a video of which is now available on demand here.

IT pros will be able to access the Windows 10 enterprise technical preview bits (build 9841) beginning Wednesday. To get the Windows 10 enterprise technical preview, testers need to sign up to become part of the Windows Insider Program, which can be done here starting on Wednesday. This preview will only be available for x86 machines as Microsoft is not yet releasing an ARM version, according to a report by veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley.

There also will be broad technical preview releases of the next Windows Server and System Center on Oct. 1, according to a Microsoft Server and Cloud blog post. These releases will support various cloud improvements, such as "rolling upgrades to Hyper-V clusters" with no downtime, a new "network controller role" that incorporates software-defined networking technology, "synchronous storage replication" and security measures to "reduce the risk profile of administrators with elevated rights."

Scalable OS
Tuesday's Windows 10 event was staged, in part, to give enterprise customers a peek at Microsoft's OS plans, according to a blog post by Jim Alkove, head of Windows enterprise program management at Microsoft.

Alkove sketched out a few enterprise features to expect in Windows 10. First, Microsoft conceives of Windows 10 as an OS that can scale across devices. For instance, Windows 10 is expected to be Microsoft's next OS for smartphones, as well as PC, laptops and tablets. Alkove suggested Windows 10 could be used on "ruggedized devices, purpose-built industry solutions, small foot print devices (Internet of Things) and all of the way up to 85" touch-screen conference room displays."

It's not clear what happens to Microsoft's Windows Phone and Windows Embedded efforts should that prove to be the case. Microsoft may talk about that later.

"Today we just began the conversation on Windows 10 with a focus primarily on the enterprise and the desktop experience," a Microsoft spokesperson explained via e-mail. "We'll have much more to share about other form factors in the coming months."

This scalability idea is tied to Microsoft's so-called "universal app platform" idea, Alkove explained. In Tuesday's San Francisco talk, Microsoft officials referred to "universal Windows apps, which is Microsoft's attempt to simplify the Windows platform for developers. Microsoft plans to deliver a single "consistent API layer" with Windows 10. So-called "metro" apps or Windows Store Apps were identified in the San Francisco talk with these universal Windows apps, and it was said that they will be capable of running in their own windows on the Desktop side of Windows 10. The universal Windows apps concept has been in the public eye since Microsoft's last build event, although it's been a work in progress. Microsoft plans to talk more about it at its next Build event in April 2015.

Microsoft also plans to unify its app store for these universal Windows Apps. Alkove explained that this unified Windows Store will add some customization and licensing options for organizations:

We're planning for the new, unified app store to allow for volume app purchases based on existing organizational identity, flexible distribution and the ability for organizations to reclaim or re-use licenses. Organizations will also be able to create a customized store, curating store experiences that can include their choice of Store apps alongside company-owned apps into a separate employee store experience.

Security and Management
Microsoft is planning to build security protections into the new OS. Alkove specifically mentioned the addition of multifactor authentication, which will dispense with the need of having to use a hardware solution for that purpose, he said. Microsoft has already adopted that approach with its Office 365 services. It added free multifactor authentication to various Office 365 business plans back in February.

Another security protection coming in Windows 10 will be some sort of file-level encryption. Alkove noted that the current BitLocker feature available with some editions of Windows protects data at the device level, but the protection isn't there when the data is moved from the device. Microsoft's concept with Windows 10 is that the protection "follows the data wherever it goes" in a container-based approach.

Alkove also hinted that Windows 10 would make in-place OS upgrades easier for IT pros, with no reimaging required. He described that capability as "dynamic provisioning":

We are creating a streamlined, reliable in-place upgrade process that can be initiated using current management infrastructure. Through new dynamic provisioning capabilities, businesses will be able to configure off-the-shelf devices, without reimaging.

Microsoft's update release pace has been somewhat unpredictable with Windows 8, as Microsoft has moved to a more agile development and release process. While organizations typically require time to test software releases before launching them in a computing environment, consumers typically set Windows Update to install Microsoft's software releases automatically. Windows 10 will bring some choice for organization on the update pace, Alkove suggested:

Businesses will be able to opt-in to the fast-moving consumer pace, or lock-down mission critical environments to receive only security and critical updates to their systems. And businesses will have an in-between option for systems that aren't mission critical, but need to keep pace with the latest innovations without disrupting the flow of business.

While that sounds like great news for IT pros, Alkove didn't provide specific details. He did add that the monthly security patch cycles would continue with Windows 10.

One Windows 10 feature that seemed to get less emphasis from the San Francisco event is the new "continuum" design in Windows 10. It's a design for tablets, allowing them to undock from keyboards and go into "tablet mode." Microsoft demonstrates how it works for its Surface device in this video.



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