A new Windows release is always disruptive for the enterprise, but Windows 10 could magnify that due to changes in the OS and the chaos created by the wholesale rejection of Windows 8.
With each new desktop OS release, there is usually a steady migration off the old, but it's not done through OS updates on existing systems. Windows in general enters the enterprise through new systems. It wasn't particularly quick, either. Enterprises usually waited until the first service pack came out, although that was before Microsoft instituted Patch Tuesday.
Then there was the rejection of Vista, which prolonged XP's lifespan for far too long, and the rejection of Windows 8, which fouled up migrations because companies ended up migrating from XP to the older product, Windows 7, or not at all. Gartner is now advising clients to skip Windows 8.1 and go straight to Windows 10 because it expects 8.1 to die off quickly once 10 is out. So the smooth upgrade path through the consecutive versions went out the window (no pun intended).
But think about what that could mean – we could see enterprises with as many as four desktop operating systems in their networks. That will make a mess out of app compatibility.
That's where desktop virtualization comes in. Citrix, which does both server and desktop virtualization, thinks there will be an increase in desktop virtualization, both for app compatibility and also so companies don't have to wait to install the new OS.
"Virtualization means you are able to absorb the change of OS without having to wait," Calvin Hsu, VP on the Citrix desktop and apps team, told me. "Because at that point you don't care about the endpoint device."
Citrix surveyed customers and non-customers using desktop virtualization and found that those using it were 15% to 20% more likely to keep up with new OSes rather than wait. The No. 1 reason for desktop virtualization was for browser compatibility, because browsers change so much from one version to the next that some users, especially people using web-based apps like SaaS, need multiple versions of the same browser.
Then there are apps built for a specific browser, which can also break from one version to the next. For example, most web apps are not likely to be ready for Microsoft's new Edge browser, so you might need Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 11 for a while.
Another reason for desktop virtualization is Office compatibility. The ribbon introduced in Office 2007 "made training really difficult," said Hsu, so customers stuck with Office 2003 until they got the hang of the new interface. Another reason for virtualizing Office in multiple silos is that companies may have built customizations that they either can't migrate or need time, like SAP-Excel integration and extensive mail forms in Word.
Hsu believes larger enterprises will wait until they finish deploying Windows 7 before looking at Windows 10, but companies still using XP are anxious to get to Windows 10. "They don't want to bother with 7 and avoided 8. So it puts us under the gun to support Windows 10," he said.
And he thinks the disruption of a migration gives companies the chance to engage in desktop virtualization, whether it's Citrix's solution or someone else's, so the next time there is a new operating system, there is a smoother migration event because they can run multiple OSes side-by-side.