The slow-breaking ascendancy of Windows 10 (and its MCSA certs)

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Windows 10 adoption will take time, but don't fall behind the curve.Every few years, Microsoft comes out with an update to their Windows operating system — the hoopla surrounding the forthcoming launch of Windows 10 is at a fever pitch at Microsoft’s Build conference for developers in San Francisco, which kicked off Wednesday and concludes tomorrow. Windows 10 is so almost here you can practically feel the tingle of its biometric security measures.

Each time we get a new Windows OS, of course, there are incentives to become an “early adopter.” With Windows 10, however, Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to try and convince people to upgrade – after all, what could possibly be better than a free (in the first year) upgrade to Windows 10? In theory Windows 10 ought to show the largest market gains in a short time of any Windows OS to date, but pulling out a crystal ball to predict the future can be tricky. To understand why Microsoft would even consider such an offer, and what it will mean to the IT industry, it’s important to look back at historical Windows launches.

If we confine our search to the past 15 years, the major Windows launches consist of Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 — the discussion of the Windows Server releases is a separate topic. In today’s market, it’s easy to look back and see what worked and what didn’t. Windows XP and Windows 7 were the big winners in terms of overall marketplace acceptance, while Windows Vista and Windows 8 have been relatively unsuccessful by comparison. According to current market research, even now the number of Windows XP users is higher than Windows 8/8.1 users, with nearly 17 percent total compared to 14 percent combined. Windows 7 holds a whopping 58 percent of the market at present.

But that’s in the global PC market. If we were to limit our view to businesses and corporations, the vast majority used Windows XP as long as possible (once they got around to upgrading from Windows 2000), and are now running Windows 7. Windows Vista and 8/8.1 never gained much traction in the IT world. Windows XP, of course, is now largely dead in the IT market as official support has been discontinued, which means most businesses are on Windows 7. The fact that Microsoft and their partners offer business PCs/laptops with “downgrade rights” only emphasizes this point — Windows Vista business PCs had Windows XP downgrade rights and current business PCs continue to offer a Windows 7 option.

The fact is that adoption rates of Microsoft’s new operating systems have always been somewhat slow for the first year — typically gaining no more than 10 to 15 percent of the market at best. After that, the OS either becomes the new standard (XP and Win7), or things continue to plod along with new PCs shipping with the latest OS while most existing PCs run a previous OS. For the consumer PC market, offering a free upgrade for Windows 7/8/8.1 users to Windows 10 should certainly improve adoption rates, but larger businesses will continue to follow traditional norms.

The reason for the discrepancy is simple: Most large businesses already have site licenses to Microsoft’s products, which means that the OS is already — and will remain — a “free” upgrade. It’s not about the cost of the OS, but rather the cost of lost productivity, user training, application compatibility testing, upgrading the software and hardware, and so forth. And the larger the company, the more cautious they are likely to be. Smaller businesses will be unlikely to jump on a free OS upgrade for the same reasons: There’s time and cost involved even if the software update is free, and the risk of something going wrong is always present. “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”

One hurdle Microsoft continues to face with Windows 8 (and Windows 10) is convincing business users that the new features are worth having. Most businesses have in-house applications, and previously many of these were designed for the older Windows platform. With the rise of the Internet, many of these applications have been moving to internal websites, which are generally OS agnostic. For businesses to switch to the latest versions of Windows, the biggest incentive would be the existence of Metro/Modern apps that offer functionality not found elsewhere. Alas, such apps essentially don’t exist. Furthermore, companies interested in leveraging new technologies like tablets and smartphones often look at the wider install base of iOS and Android, with Windows Phone still a distant third place in market share.

For the IT industry, then, even with the launch of Windows 10 this summer it will largely be a case of “business as usual.” For the first year or two after launch, technology companies will be the primary upgraders (Microsoft itself, for example, isn’t going to remain on Windows 8.1). If the pattern of the last 15 years holds, Windows 10 will be to Windows 8/8.1 what Windows 7 was to Windows Vista and it will eventually become the long-term market leader for Microsoft. The resistance to Windows 8, however, continues even as we approach the three years mark, so widespread acceptance of “Windows 8 2.0” is by no means a guarantee.

What does this mean for those seeking to remain current with their certifications? There will be updated exams in the coming months — the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) 687 (Configuring Windows 8.1) and 688 (Supporting Windows 8.1) exams, for example, will soon have Windows 10 counterparts. If you have the time and inclination, then there’s obviously no harm in gaining Windows 10 certifications once they become available.

From a practical standpoint, however, most IT departments are and will remain largely focused on supporting Windows 7. Historical evidence suggests that it will take close to two years before Windows 10 becomes a major factor in the business world, and even with free upgrades being offered to current Windows 7/8/8.1 users, that is unlikely to change.

There are, of course, benefits to being an “early adopter” of IT certifications. While most businesses are unlikely to migrate their user base to Windows 10 any time soon, those who choose to get certified for Windows 10 early will become a valuable asset in helping to educate and inform future IT policy. Just as Windows XP was retired from active support, the same will eventually happen to Windows 7, so testing and analysis of what will need to happen for the eventual migration from Windows 7 is an ongoing task.

It might be two years or more before Windows 10 starts showing up on most business PCs, but before any IT departments make that transition, they’re going to spend time learning and testing the new OS. From that perspective, getting certified for Windows 10 as soon as possible will put IT specialists in a good position for the future.

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Jarred Walton


Jarred Walton has worked in IT since 1999. He was formerly a senior editor at and has written extensively about computer technology.

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