What kinds of exclusives will Microsoft offer Windows 10 Enterprise users?

Microsoft has yet to detail which versions of Windows 10 get which features. But there is a bit of new information about what Windows 10 Enterprise users can expect later this year.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

It's no secret that Microsoft has been working overtime to try to make Windows 10 more palatable to enterprise users than Windows 8.x was.

Back when Microsoft initially took the covers off Windows 10 in October 2014, officials said they had been talking to enterprise users for a number of months beforehand to make sure Microsoft would deliver an operating system to which they'd consider upgrading.

Microsoft still hasn't made available a comparative feature matrix, like this one it has for Windows 8.1, which shows the set of features that Home, Pro, Enterprise and Education users will get. I've asked company officials when such a matrix might be available for Windows 10. No word back on that so far.

However, we do know that Microsoft intends to sweeten the pot for Enterprise users with Windows 10 on several fronts, according to information the company has shared with its reseller partners.

Windows 10 Enterprise will be available only through volume licensing, not through any retail channels. Windows 10 won't be available as a free promotional upgrade to Enterprise users, as Microsoft officials have acknowledged previously. But Enterprise users with volume licensing contracts and Software Assurance will have the rights to move to Windows 10 once they're ready.

As I've blogged before, Microsoft is making access to the Windows 10 Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) a Windows 10 Enterprise exclusive. This means only Windows 10 Enterprise users -- and not Home or Pro users -- will be able to delay for a number of years the delivery of new features to Windows 10 users.

According to the slide Microsoft shared with partners recently, embedded above at the top of this post, Enterprise users will have the ability to accept only security updates and fixes and delay the delivery of any new features for 10 years (the length of LTSB support). Administrators will have the option of putting different Windows 10 Enterprise users on different servicing branches: LTSB, Current Branch and/or Current Branch for Business.

Windows 10 Enterprise users also will get a number of "ongoing exclusive Enterprise features," Microsoft officials have told partners, including granular UX controla and lockdown; Pass the Hash Mitigations; Telemetry control via Group Policy/Mobile Device Management (GP/MDM); and Device Guard, a new anti-malware/threat protection feature unique to Windows 10. Windows 10 Enterprise users also will be the only group of Windows 10 users to get DirectAccess, Windows to Go, AppLocker and BrancheCache, as is the case now with Windows 8.1 Enterprise.

With the availability of Windows 10, Microsoft also is going to offer Enterprise users with Software Assurance free access to the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). Today, MDOP is an optional, paid add-on for Enterprise and Software Assurance customers. As of the launch of Windows 10, MDOP will be included for free with Software Assurance for new customers and renewal customers, but not retroactively. MDOP bundles together a number of virtualization, management and recovery tools.

Another change coming with Windows 10 is around side-loading of applications -- something business users may want for line-of-business applications available to their own employees only. Side-loading will be a built-in capability with Windows 10 for Home, Pro and Enterprise users. This means Microsoft will no longer be selling side-loading licenses as a separate add-on.

Downgrade rights will remain the same with Windows 10 Enterprise as they are currently. Windows 10 Enterprise users will have the option of downgrading to Windows 7 Enterprise or Windows 8.1 Enterprise.

Microsoft will be making Windows 10 available to existing Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1 Home and Pro customers for free as of July 29. The free upgrade promotion is set to last until July 29, 2016. I'm not sure whether Enterprise users also will be able to move to Windows 10 Enterprise starting July 29, 2015, or at some later date. (I've asked for clarification.)

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