This past weekend, on July 29, Windows 10 reached a new milestone: Two years ago the first public version of Windows 10 was made available to users on Windows 7 and 8.1 systems as a free upgrade.
The journey to that initial release started nearly two years before that, on September 30, 2014, with the launch of the Windows Insider Program. This allowed enthusiasts to download early development builds of the operating system well ahead of its release. The concept was to open the development process of Windows 10 much earlier than the company had with prior iterations of its flagship operating system.
In the past, Windows 7 and Windows 8 only had a few public preview builds made available for testing, and at that point in the development cycle, the feature set was finalized with no options for early users to request changes of any sort except for possible show-stopping bugs. The Windows development process mainly happened behind closed doors with very little outside input.
The Windows Insider Program opened those doors wide: between October 2014 and the July 2015 release of Windows 10, the Windows team made 21 PC and Mobile builds of Windows 10 available to testers. That was a seven-fold increase from the typical previews that were offered for earlier versions of Windows. In addition, testers had the opportunity to submit feedback over the course of that nine-month period that would impact the operating systems development.
Since then, there has been no looking back. Microsoft has continued that same process for the development of the first three feature updates for Windows 10:
A total of 6 PC and 6 Mobile builds were released between August 2015 and November 2015.
A total of 27 PC and 23 Mobile builds were released between December 2015 and July 2016.
A total of 28 PC and 19 Mobile builds were released between August 2016 and March 2017.
The next feature update for Windows 10, the Fall Creators Update, is expected to become available this September and has already seen 13 PC and 13 Mobile builds shipped to Windows Insiders for testing and feedback.
The Growth of Windows 10
Over the last two years the growth of Windows 10 has exceeded any of its predecessors during the same time period but Microsoft had initially expected it to be even higher. Back at Build 2015 they announced an ambitious goal to have Windows 10 installed and running on 1 billion devices in the first 2-3 years of its availability.
A little more than 15 months later, just prior to the release of the Anniversary Update in August 2016, they had to back that bold prediction down and admit it was not attainable as they initially expected/believed.
Leading up to this change in goals for seeing one billion Windows 10 based devices in those first 2-3 years, it was already going to be a hard one to meet, any fluctuation would put that goal at risk according to my math in May 2016. Since we knew the end of the free upgrade was approaching for consumer devices running Windows 7/8.1, it was obvious that expected slowdown in migrations would negatively impact that goal. That is why Microsoft came out a couple months later to acquiesce and walk things back.
That ended up being a good move because as you can see with the momentum numbers that have been provided by Microsoft over the last two years, compared to the first year, adoption has slowed down significantly.
-- 14 million upgrades in first 24 hours of availability (July 29, 2015)
-- 75 million devices in the first month of availability (August 26, 2015)
-- 110 million devices (October 6, 2015)
-- 200 million active devices (January 4, 2016)
-- 270 million active devices (March 30, 2016)
-- 300 million active devices (May 5, 2016)
-- 350 million active devices (June 29, 2016)
-- 400 Million active devices (September 26, 2016)
-- 500 Million active devices (May 10, 2017)
The eight-month gap between last September's update (just after the 12-month free upgrade offer ended), and May update with 500 million users collected 100 million new Windows 10 users. That is a huge change in momentum compared to more than 350 million that were added in the first 12 months Windows 10 was out and the upgrades were less pricey.
According to Microsoft, they continue to be pleased with the uptake of Windows 10 and its adoption continues to outpace its most popular predecessor – Windows 7.
The Future Features Twice-Yearly Major Updates
There are no signs that Microsoft is going to abandon their agile approach to the development of Windows 10 and they even formalized March and September of each year as the target shipping months for these feature updates. In fact, this year will be the first time the company has released two major feature updates in the same calendar year.
Note: The Anniversary and Creators Update were released just eight months apart but that period of time crosses two calendar years (2016/2017).
Over the last few months, in a continued commitment to their plan to release two feature updates each calendar year, the company has also added Office 365, SCCM, and Windows Server to this development schedule.
Recent changes in the Windows Insider Program which allow testers to Skip Ahead to the next development branch builds for Windows 10, builds that will be the basis of the fifth major feature update that is expected in Spring 2018, also means Microsoft is ready to give their development branch builds even more exposure to testers for collecting telemetry and feedback. This change occurred just last week as the Windows team moved the upcoming Fall Creators Update into its release branch for the final push towards its expected September availability.
On the adoption front Windows 10 has a couple of things working in its favor:
No. 1: Windows 7 End of Lifecycle Support
Microsoft’s Windows Lifecycle Fact Sheet shows Windows 7 (with Service Pack 1) will reach the end of Extended Support on 14 January 2020 – just 2 years and 5 months from now.
When you look at the way Microsoft is supporting each feature update of Windows 10 for an 18-month period after its release and then moving businesses on to the next supported feature update, you can see the Redmond company wants their user base to be on a modern and supported version of Windows.
Now that Windows 7 is itself nearly eight years old, the initial release was back in October 2009, do not expect Microsoft to issue a four-year support reprieve for the operating system like the company did for the extremely popular Windows XP as it approached its scheduled end of extended support. I fully expect Microsoft to end support for Windows 7 as scheduled in January 2020.
Microsoft is already pushing the Windows 10 message heavily at every opportunity and each subsequent feature update continues to build on the security and reliability of the OS which is so critical to users these days. While many consumers are bristling at these incremental feature updates and limited feature sets in each of them, as they upgrade their hardware they will make the move from their old systems to new ones running Windows 10.
In fact, you can’t buy Windows 7 (or even Windows 8/8.1) on new hardware anymore so your only option is Windows 10 for those new systems.
No. 2: Windows 10 Making Gains in Business and Enterprise Adoption
I recently wrote about a survey by Spiceworks that shows Windows 10 being tested and used in 60% of the companies they surveyed . That is an increase of 6% since March 2017 while Windows 7, which is used in 84% of those companies, dropped by 3% in the same period.
That is a good indication that companies are not waiting for the end of Windows 7’s lifecycle support to begin working with Windows 10 and preparing for their migration well ahead of January 2020.
As I mentioned last September, the main growth for Windows 10 is now going to be from businesses and enterprises as they migrate to Windows 10. I expect that pace to pick up significantly over the next two years and the numbers reported by Spiceworks shows that to be the case.
This change will also happen despite the extra effort that will be required to evaluate each new feature update for eventual deployment to their users however, if companies adapt Microsoft's advice for managing the rollout in a staged and deliberate manner that will help them tremendously.
I understand that change is hard for many of us but at times you just have to rip the band-aid off and get on with the change. The longer the inevitable is pushed on your calendar then it becomes even harder to get started. Smart IT Pros will already be developing their plans for adopting Windows 10 and the feature update cycles.
If You're Waiting for Things to Slow Down, Prepare to be Disappointed
There is no doubt that the last two years of Windows 10 has been challenging however, if you are sitting out there waiting for Microsoft to slow things down you might just be disappointed. And if you're attached to experimental features -- well, sometimes you're disappointed there too.
The agile development schedule has resulted in expected and popular features such as My People, Windows Timeline, and the Cloud-Powered Clipboard to miss their intended shipping versions of Windows 10. As of right now it looks like My People will ship in the Fall Creators Update, just one feature update later than expected, while Windows Timeline and the Cloud Powered-Clipboard are now targeted towards the Spring 2018 feature update known by its code name of Redstone 4.
The reality is you cannot have open development without seeing what's gained and lost at each step – that means there are two options moving forward:
-- Microsoft continues to have a very open and accessible development process for Windows 10 by providing Insiders early access to development branch builds. The risk with pre-release software is that some announced/teased features might get canceled or delayed if they are deemed not ready for public consumption.
-- Microsoft returns to a Windows development process that primarily happens behind closed doors in Redmond with a couple of preview releases made available a few weeks before the updates general availability. This means Insiders and other testers would have very little impact on the OS.
Neither of these options impact who I call everyday users. Most of them could care less about feature updates, inbox apps, and Windows Insider builds. They just want to be able to walk in and turn on their computer and get their email and browse the web. They use a computer like an appliance and just expect it to work for the functions they bought it for in the first place.
For enthusiasts, it is an entirely different story.
It is so extreme at times for this group of users that product announcement videos get dissected frame by frame to identify what could potentially be new apps or features for the operating system.
These are the users that make their voices heard on social media and in the Feedback Hub about what they want to see in Windows 10. If there happens to be an entire week that passes without a new build release to install and test, then this group of folks get very restless. Their passion, both positively and negatively expressed, is intense and not for the lighthearted but ultimately, they want to see Windows 10 as the best possible version of Windows and so they dive in head first without regard to much else.
The next two years are going to be very interesting as we get even closer to the end of support for Windows 7.