Upgrading to a new client operating system is a massive headache for the CIOs of most organisations. That's because it's disruptive, it impacts hardware purchasing decisions, it drains IT budgets and it can take up hours of IT staff time.
So the release of Microsoft's Windows 10 begs some awkward questions about if, when and how best to proceed with a move from Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1, Windows Vista or even the no-longer supported Windows XP.
If you're not planning a migration to Windows 10 any time soon then you're in good company. A survey carried out in the US at Microsoft's Ignite 2015 conference in in May found that 71% of those polled said their companies plan to wait at least six months from the release of Windows 10 before migrating. Some 49% said they planned to wait more than a year.
Larger companies with more than 100,000 end users were even more conservative, with over 80% planning to wait a year or more.
But whether you're hoping to move to Windows 10 in 2015 or plan on waiting until 2016, 2017 or even later, here are 10 things you should start to consider now.
1. The clock is ticking on Windows 7
Microsoft's most popular desktop operating system, Windows 7, commands almost 61% of the desktop market (according to Netmarketshare). But the OS is scheduled for end of life in four and a half years in January 2020.
That may sound like a long time, but many organisations had a similar amount of time to move from Windows XP to Windows 7 and still ran out of time, warns Steve Kleynhans, an analyst at Gartner. "This time companies should be more proactive and get going sooner to avoid the risk of crashing into a wall," he says.
2. Windows 10 is (almost certainly) more secure
While it's true that any new operating system will inevitably contain unknown security vulnerabilities that will be discovered by hackers or security researchers over time, Windows 10 does include some potentially valuable features to help keep corporate networks and data secure.
Device Guard, which prevents applications from running unless they are recognised.
Windows Hello, for biometric authentication.
Secure Boot, which prevents malicious software from loading while a computer boots, thereby potentially compromising the operating system as soon as it starts.
3. Windows 10 may make mobile computing more attractive
Truly compelling reasons to migrate to Windows 10 are few and far between. But for some organisations, Windows 10 will finally make moving to tablets a viable proposition. "Windows 10 enables you to use those cool sexy 2-in-1 hybrid tablets that have until now been limited to running Windows 8.1," says Kleynhans.
Many organisations have held off purchasing these devices in order to avoid having to train staff to use Windows 8.1 or having to figure out how to integrate Windows 8.1 into their environments, he adds.
Windows 10 promises to be far easier when it comes to integration with existing Windows 7 devices and users.
4. Uncertainty over Windows Phone means the value of universal apps is questionable
Windows 10 sees the introduction of universal apps that can easily be made to run on any device, and in particular on desktops or laptops and on phones running Windows 10 Mobile.
But just days before the launch of Windows 10 the future of Windows 10 Mobile was plunged into doubt with the announcement that Microsoft was writing off $7.6 billion from its acquisition of Nokia last year, and that 7,800 jobs are to be cut in a "fundamental restructuring of our phone business," according to an email written by CEO Satya Nadella.
Windows 10 Mobile has yet to be released, but if and when it does see the light of day it may not live long enough for Microsoft's universal apps to offer much value.
5. Migrating from 7 to 10 is likely to be much easier than the move from XP to 7
The move from XP to 7 was a significant change, and one which enabled better security and device management. But taking advantage of these new capabilities involved implementing new backend infrastructure, says Ed Shepley, a solutions architect at migration specialist Camwood.
"The difference this time is that with Windows 10 you will be able to continue to use that same backend infrastructure. Things will be much simpler and there won't be nearly as many blockages," he adds.
6. Application and hardware incompatibilities won't be a big issue
The move from XP to 7 was also made complicated because a large portion of existing apps, devices and peripherals wouldn't work on the new operating system.
"That meant that a lot of companies spent 18-24 months just figuring out how to make the migration work, says Kleynhans." But with the move to 10 most things will be compatible, so you'll be able to cover your eyes, drop things on to 10 and they'll just work," he says.
"You may start to do initial testing and discover that you'll be ready in 3-6 months quite easily.
7. Windows 10 changes the way the operating system is updated
Administrators will have to get used to various new ways of updating Windows, including Current Branch for Business, and Long Term Service Branch.
CBB provides some flexibility in when businesses using Windows Update for Business or Windows Server Update Services install security updates, fixes and new features. They'll be able to defer updates for a short but as yet unspecified period of time.
The LTSB enables organisations to take security updates and fixes but decline new features indefinitely.
8. It may not be as easy as it seems to decline feature updates
"I don't think administrators in that many organisations will have the luxury of being able to say that they won't take any feature updates, because users will cry out for them," says Shepley. "People want the agility that new features may bring."
In practice it's likely that the sorts of systems that are frozen, and have no feature updates, will be legacy systems, non-typical computing devices like ATMs, or call center systems.
9. There are still some known unknowns
There is still plenty about Windows 10 that is unknown at this time, such as what changes will be made to Microsoft's InTune device and application management system, warns Kleynhans. "There are still some pieces that you can't test yet, like how you manage apps and app stores."
10. The Windows 10 migration may be the last
The good news for those responsible for corporate operating systems is that this may be the last one of this headache-inducing kind. That's because the trend is toward frequent small updates and enhancements rather than huge upgrades in the same way that Microsoft's Office 365 product is updated many times per month.
"That means we'll be able to rethink how we negotiate these small updates probably with small, repeatable and automatable processes," Kleynhans concludes. "We have never got round to automation in the past, but I think that once we transition to Windows 10, future upgrades will be much less work."