The Windows OS once controlled nearly the entire corporate market at a time when Android and Chrome did not yet exist and Macs were for schools, graphic designers, and other fringe uses. That dominance has slipped in recent years, not only because Google entered the market with cheap devices while Apple won share as a premium brand, but also because Microsoft made some mistakes.
Controlling Windows and its updates on the enterprise level was harder than it should have been for Microsoft, but the company is moving to solve that while taking an opportunity to zing its rivals.
"This level of commitment and support is far different than Android, for example, where Google refuses to take responsibility for updating their customers' devices, leaving end-users and business increasingly exposed every day they use the device," said Terry Myerson, Microsoft's operating systems boss, in a recent blog post explaining the new Windows Update for Business program.
The new setup gives information-technology departments more control over how updates are rolled out as part of what Microsoft called its "continuous update" approach for computers, tablets, and phones using Windows 10. The new program is built on twin pillars of security and deployment manageability.
It's a friendlier Windows that is much more reflective of a company operating in a competitive environment in which businesses actually have a choice.
How the security efforts works
One of the most important update features for Windows -- specifically for business customers -- is the security patches the company sends out. These keep the OS protected against the latest hacks and attacks. WIndows 10 will offer those, as well as some built-in features designed specifically for corporate users:
- Device protection: This allows for a secure boot in which only trusted software loads when the device turns on. Windows 10's Device Guard feature ensures applications from trusted sources, including the Windows Store for Business, are allowed to run. Windows 10 also includes a device health capability that allows enterprises and websites to ensure that users only access services from healthy, fully updated, and compliant devices.
- Identity protection: Windows 10's Microsoft Passport feature leverages hardware-based Hyper-V isolation to protect credentials and securely authenticate with websites and networks on your behalf -- without sending up a password.
- Application protection: The Windows Store for Business, certifies applications before distribution and Device Guard ensures enterprise devices only run those certified applications.
- Information protection: The OS's Enterprise Data Protection functionality can automatically encrypt corporate apps, data, email, website content, and other sensitive information, as it arrives on the device from corporate network locations.
Security has been a problem for Microsoft, with the company's OS perceived as being more vulnerable than Apple's and Google's operating systems. By aggressively making security a part of the Windows package for business, Microsoft can mitigate these fears.
Microsoft is changing how businesses update Windows
Windows Update for Business was designed in consultation with "IT professionals all over the world" to deliver an updated experience that offers companies greater control. These changes include:
- Distribution rings, where the IT pro can specify which devices go first in an update wave, and which will come later (to ensure any quality kinks are worked out).
- Maintenance windows, where the IT pro can specify the critical time frames during when updates should and should not occur.
- Peer-to-peer delivery, which IT can enable to make delivery of updates to branch offices and remote sites with limited bandwidth very efficient.
- Integration with existing tools such as System Center and the Enterprise Mobility Suite, so that these tools can continue to be that "single pane of glass" for all of your systems management.
The goal of these changes is to "reduce management costs, provide controls over update deployment, offer quicker access to security updates, and provide access to the latest innovation from Microsoft on an ongoing basis," according to the company.
Putting this control in the hands of the company on an enterprise level allows for a broader rollout of updates than did previous versions of Windows. It also enables companies to stay more current with the OS, which is increasingly relevant now that Microsoft is updating it on a near-continual basis.
It's a start
Microsoft has lost business share not just because of security concerns and issues regarding updates, but because Apple and Google have brought unique offerings to the table. The Windows maker had to address losing its once-dominant hold on business customers, and Windows Update for Business at least shows management recognizes the problem.
More importantly, these changes show a different Microsoft -- one that actually considers the needs of its most important customer base. Myerson's remarks also reflect a company that is becoming a little feisty and willing to fight back. That's a refreshing sign after Microsoft spent so many years seemingly unaware as rivals chipped away at its empire.
WIndows Update for Business won't necessarily win back any users from Apple or Google, but it could keep some from defecting and it shows Microsoft is back in the game.