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Windows 10 Pro: More of a dead end than ever

Windows 10 Pro remains a dead end for most organizations, an analyst reiterated in an interview.

"Absolutely, still a dead end," said Stephen Kleynhans, a research vice president at Gartner.

More than a year ago, Kleynhans and Michael Silver, another Gartner analyst, asserted that Windows 10 Pro - the version traditionally factory-installed on business-grade PCs - was a blind alley for most businesses. Although Microsoft has long emphasized Windows 10 Enterprise, and before that, other SKUs (stock-keeping units) with the same "Enterprise" suffix, Pro's second-class citizenship was more starkly revealed when Microsoft offered then-temporary support extensions only to Enterprise customers.

"The one thing that really surprised me about the added support was the fact that it didn't apply to Pro," Kleynhans said in a May 2018 interview. "I think that this telegraphed the fact that, for businesses, Pro is being dead-ended."

What held then still holds now, Kleynhans said. "If you are a very small organization, your needs aren't very great, and you have no need to manage your PCs. Then ((Windows 10)) Pro is great in the small business, like a small store or a doctor's office.

"But if you have any need for central IT or centralized management, it's hard to see how Pro would be suitable," Kleynhans added.

Windows 10 Pro's biggest problem remains support. When Kleynhans and Silver warned clients last year of Pro's unsuitability, Microsoft had only months before added six months to the support lifecycle for recent Windows 10 Enterprise upgrades, including versions 1609, 1703 and 1709. (Oddly, the very latest version at the time, the April 2018 Update, aka 1803 in Microsoft's numeric parlance, did not initially receive the same support extension to 24 months.)

Since the Gartner analysts issued their original alert about Pro, Microsoft has tilted the playing field even further toward Windows 10 Enterprise. In September 2018, the Redmond, Wash. company announced that as of Windows 10 1809, the version that should have launched in October, every fall feature upgrade would receive 30 months of support, not the 18 of Windows 10 Pro. (In yet another odd move, Microsoft limited the support for each year's spring feature upgrade to 18 months, even for Enterprise. Hence, Windows 10 Enterprise was to be supported 18 months for each yy03 version and 30 months for yy09 refreshes. Enterprise was the only Windows 10 SKU to be given a bifurcated support lifecycle.)

The impact of the additional support was immediately recognized. While Windows 10 Pro's cadence of deploying feature upgrades could be reduced to one each year, that came with risk and required agility on the part of the business. There was little room for error, either on the part of Microsoft in meeting release deadlines or on the part of a business in its prep-pilot-deploy due diligence.

Those managing Window 10 Enterprise, on the other hand, were allowed so much flexibility by the 30 months of support that they could start deployment anywhere during the first 12 and still let workers run a version for 12 months. Especially daring and/or agile IT staffs might reduce deployments to only one every 24 months if they were confident Microsoft would stay on schedule.

Why Microsoft won't make Windows 10 Pro better

Left unsaid in the entire "dead end" conversation is that Microsoft has no motivation to improve Windows 10 Pro to the point where it can serve as a viable OS for organizations.

The divergence between the two SKUs is, of course, entirely artificial. Microsoft set the boundaries, as is its right, and would be foolish in the face of anything but a massive customer rebellion to make one much like the other, whether to raise Pro or lower Enterprise.

Usually, "follow the money" is good advice. It is here.

Once Microsoft is paid by the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) - the computer maker, as in a Lenovo or an HP - for the copy of Windows 10 Pro that's installed on a PC prior to it leaving the factory, Microsoft doesn't make another direct dime from the operating system. (Okay, one could pay for Software Assurance for Windows 10 Pro, but the question would be Why?)

Certainly, Microsoft can earn revenue from sales of other software or services for and to that Windows 10 Pro PC, as it has for decades. But Windows 10 Pro is a one-time sale, a one-time money maker.

Not so Enterprise. Where Microsoft once was limited to Software Assurance revenue for Enterprise, now it sells subscriptions to the software in several forms, ranging from Windows 10 Enterprise E3 and E5 to Microsoft 365 Enterprise E3 and E5. Those subscriptions generate recurring revenue, providing in return a more comprehensive feature set that in most cases is exclusive to the Enterprise SKU. If the subscription expires and is not renewed, the PC resorts to again running Windows 10 Pro.

It's remarkable: Microsoft has managed to get many customers to pay twice for an operating system, once when it's included in the price of the PC, again with an Enterprise subscription.

Not only will Microsoft not dare upset that apple cart, but it surely wishes that all businesses eventually adopt Enterprise. It may even secretly wish for Pro to simply disappear as a business option. All that, and more, means the company will be unlikely to extend Windows 10 Pro's support from the current 18 months or duplicate Enterprise-only features within the lower SKU.

Customers should expect a growing number of benefits to Enterprise with no concurrent comparatives for Pro. Wherever possible, Microsoft will give the edge to Enterprise, even in the smallest ways.

For instance, the impending "Windows 7 Extended Security Updates," after-end-of-support security updates that will be available for three years starting in January 2020, are priced differently for Enterprise and Pro users. Those licensing PCs through Windows 10 Enterprise or Microsoft 365 Enterprise will pay $25 per device for the first year of extended support; other customers, "who have not purchased Windows 10 Enterprise and have determined that Windows 10 Pro is adequate for their needs," must pay twice that, $50, for the first year.

Advantage, Enterprise.

This story, "Windows 10 Pro: More of a dead end than ever" was originally published by Computerworld.