Windows 10 installed base grows, as businesses become less cautious

Conventional wisdom says enterprise buyers take years before they even think of moving to a new version of Windows. That playbook is changing with Windows 10.

Earlier this week, at the Ignite conference in Atlanta, Ga., Microsoft announced that the number of monthly active users of Windows 10 had passed the 400 million mark.

That's up from the last milestone of 350 million, announced one month before the end of the year-long free Windows 10 upgrade offer.

And while that's a slight slowing of the upgrade pace, it's still a healthy increase that most tech companies would celebrate.

Some of those new users squeaked in under the wire in the last month of free upgrades, of course, and others represent new PC purchases. But it's also certain that some of those shiny new Windows 10 desktops are corporate upgrades.

This week I downloaded the latest numbers on Windows usage from the US government's Digital Analytics Project. In February, just over 19 percent of its traffic came from devices running Windows 10. In September, Windows 10 was running on nearly one-in-three PCs visiting the US government's network of sites (32.9 percent).

During the same period, every other Windows version saw its share plummet. In September, Windows XP and Windows Vista combined represented a mere 3.5 percent of traffic.

The incredibly rich DAP dataset, which covers more than 30 billion separate visits from Windows PCs alone so far this year, allowed me to look at the difference between weekend traffic and weekday visits. Fewer people are at work on weekends, making that group more likely to represent home users. Conversely, weekday traffic to US government sites is likely to include a large number of business sites.

The numbers are illuminating. Among consumers, Windows 10 is the clear leader among Windows versions, trouncing Windows 7 by 8 percentage points

windows-versions-weekends-thru1609.jpg
Data via analytics.usa.gov

On weekdays, the story is very different, as businesses continue to prefer the tried-and-true Windows 7.

windows-versions-weekdays-thru1609.jpg
Data via analytics.usa.gov

Still, even in that more conservative environment, Windows 10 has managed to reach nearly 31 percent of all visits from Windows PCs. And the drop in Windows 7 usage from the start of the year is steep, from 65.6 percent in February to less than 58 percent in September.

Onstage at Ignite this week, Accenture CIO Andrew Wilson said that the global IT consulting firm had already upgraded 100,000 of its employees' PCs to Windows 10, with more scheduled to migrate in the next few months.

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Wilson admitted that's a big switch from just a few years ago, when a "risk averse" approach encouraged CIOs to watch from the sidelines. "We didn't start the Windows 7 upgrade until over two years into it," he admitted, "because we had to wait and see."

I'm hearing similar stories, often told in incredulous tones, from IT pros who are preparing for large-scale enterprise deployments years earlier than they would normally do so.

This week I saw the deployment plans for a large division of a Fortune 50 corporation, which is buying new Windows 10 PCs today and has upgrade plans that will cover most of its installed base of 110,000 PCs in the first half of 2017.

At this large organization, only a handful of apps are deployment blockers (the biggest is a third-party encryption package), and the company expects to have its entire organization moved to Windows 10 by 2019.

One big surprise in that plan, echoed elsewhere, is the popularity of in-place upgrades for existing PCs. Historically, enterprises have preferred to reimage PCs to deploy a new Windows version, but the Windows 10 upgrade process has proven robust enough that even grizzled IT pros are approving it.

Why the sudden change in heart? It's not that CIOs have suddenly decided to become degenerate gamblers. A more logical explanation is that the app landscape they have to support has changed in the past few years.

In a post here earlier this week, Mark Samuels asked what CIOs really think of Windows 10. The consensus? Among the CIOs spoken to by ZDNet, "the operating system itself is a lower priority than efforts to move applications to the cloud [and] the details of the operating system are less important to customers as applications are increasingly expected to run across multiple platforms."

Paradoxically, that means that a Windows 10 upgrade is less risky than earlier upgrades. Where an enterprise might previously have had dozens of line-of-business apps to test before beginning the deployment process, today much of that testing isn't necessary, because the browser itself shoulders much of the compatibility load.

There are, of course, still plenty of risk-averse CIOs out there who aren't quite willing to jump on the Windows 10 bandwagon. But most of them, I suspect, are eager to make the move well before January 2020, when Windows 7 exits its 10-year support lifecycle.

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