Windows 10 vs. iOS vs. Android: Are Mass Device OS Upgrades Obsolete?

Rob Enderle
Slide Show

BYOD for the CIO: Maximize Productivity While Maintaining Security

Are managed upgrades a thing of the past?

CDW just released its numbers on Windows 10 upgrades and while it found that the majority of IT folks, 79 percent, had upgraded their own machines, only 30 percent run or plan to run Windows 10 pilots in the coming months. This begs the question: If IT effectively self-upgraded and we exist increasingly in a BYOD world, how many companies have upgraded to Windows 10 without IT driving the upgrade? IT didn’t drive any operating system upgrade on smartphones, yet they tend to remain relatively current, and IT didn’t drive BYOD; in fact, IT didn’t drive cloud services either. All were generally driven by users. IT simply had to deal with the result as a staff organization. Thinking back, IT didn’t drive the move to Windows 95 either; that was a consumer operating system and yet users, even at a time when IT could exert far more control, drove the upgrade cycle. Granted, back then this often ended really badly.

But things have changed a lot since the 1990s. Windows has grown to adopt many of the concepts that surrounded mobile operating systems and Windows 10 is conceived to be upgraded in place over its life, making another major upgrade as unlikely as it now is with mobile operating systems.

So, are pilots and major upgrades a thing of the past? I think so. Let’s explore this.

Pilots and Formal Deployments

The reason we had operating system pilots rolling to formal deployments was because we believed that things would be far easier in a world of thousands of machines if we kept them consistent. I think the irony is that, in practice, we were just fooling ourselves. With the exception of a very few companies, no one could ever get everyone on the same software load -- ever. New employees, differences in applications between divisions, budget limitations, and vastly different hardware component configurations even within the same vendor tended to result in wild variations, which were exacerbated by creative employees who would modify their PCs because they thought of them as “their PCs.”


To keep hardware budgets down, we allowed employees to buy their own PCs and connect them to the network. These machines had virtually nothing in common with the PCs the firm specified, and even if they were just used at home, they still needed some level of support and commonality, even if it was only with regard to how they were secured and protected against viruses.

Because of the risk of viruses and security breaches, the operating system vendors, particularly Microsoft, had to first go to a monthly cadence of patches, which generally came too fast to fully test before implementation. Then they had to abandon that monthly cadence to address zero-day exploits. This effectively destroyed even the false image that we could keep all PCs identical and, in the end, they really weren’t anyway.

Finally, we increasingly are deploying apps as cloud services so the need to have everyone on the same operating system has been reduced substantially. This is a particularly good thing because most of us were never able to do it anyway.

Smartphones and Tablets

With smartphones and tablets, outside of BlackBerry, we were never even able to attempt to get everyone on the same OS. Phones were generally purchased by the employee and the variance even within a phone manufacturer made PC OEMs look downright boring by comparison. The Intel consistency was blown up as pretty much every vendor had their own flavor or ARM, graphics and chipsets. In addition, we didn’t even have one constant OS; we had two or more, with iOS and Android becoming dominant. This is likely one of the reasons that BB10 has hung on, because it can be kept comparatively constant. But as the BlackBerry PRIV showcases, from a user standpoint, a blended approach is by far more attractive and, outside of organizations that have extremely high security requirements, the PRIV blended OS approach is likely the best of both worlds, but it will update with Android -- and Android updates a lot.

Mobile devices are even more tied to cloud services than their PC counterparts and the need for high standardization, except as noted, hasn’t really emerged broadly. Given that we really were never able to get PCs to be consistent and smartphones are even more varied, this is likely a good thing.

Wrapping Up: The Mass Operating System Migration Process Is Dead

With some noted exceptions, the mass operating system migration process never really worked anyway. Migrations often took years to complete and there are some otherwise consistent shops I know of that have everything from Windows 2000 to Windows 10 still in the field (which is really not a good idea at all). In the end, maybe it is time to just pick up support for a new OS and let the line organization decide when they want to move to it, self-assure compliance, and make sure support can handle calls that will undoubtedly come in. It is their budget and risk, after all. Since many are going to do this anyway, and we now have environments that have Windows, iOS, MacOS, Android and Chrome OS, maybe it is time to drop back and simply do support and let the users and their management make the OS decisions, simply working to make sure they make informed decisions and provide assistance when things go south.

Something to think about over the holidays.

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm.  With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+



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