Digital-workplaceTaking the next step up on productivity

The launch of Windows 10 has attracted attention and indifference in equal measures, but having a consistent platform that works across all desktop and mobile form factors that is cloud-ready and offers improved security, can help organisations build a more efficient and effective workplace. We spoke to Justin Edwards, Principal Solutions Architect within SCC’s services business, about what’s can be gained from deploying the new operating environment – and some of Microsoft’s other latest technologies – in today’s digital workplace

A brief history of Windows 10

The latest version of Microsoft’s ubiquitous operating system, Windows 10, was officially launched in July 2015 and it was, by past standards, a fairly low-key affair. Windows 10 was widely seen by analysts and observers as an important return to the expected arc of development for the operating environment.

Windows 8.1 (for reasons that have never become entirely clear, there was never a ‘Windows 9’), went on general release in October 2013 and while it was undoubtedly a success, many customers had chosen to stick with their installed version of Windows 7 during that time. While there were many reasons for this, in most cases one of the major ones was to avoid a switch to new and quite different interface that had been introduced when Windows 8 was first launched in October 2012.

With Windows 10, Microsoft brought back the Start menu on the standard desktop version and made it easier to switch between using the mouse and keyboard and touch-screen control. Windows 10 is also designed, from the ground-up, to work on all kinds of devices – desktops, laptops, tablets and even smartphones, in a consistent way. This is one of its main appeals.

It is also designed for the cloud era and is very much an ‘as-a-service’ system, with upgrades are provided for download ad installation, as and when they become available, rather than in the form of essential patches with all major changes provided together in Service Pack updates once every year or so.

The digital workplace today

Before starting any discussion about Windows 10 and its merits, the potential benefits it offers and the reasons why you might not want to wait too much longer before going ahead with an upgrade, it is important to understand the current context within the digital workplace, says Justin Edwards, Technical Architect at SCC.

“There are so many different aspects we need to consider in today’s workplace – application delivery, security and compliance, mobility, remote access, BYOD, SaaS and cloud services, business and user requirements. We need to take all these into account when considering the kind of IT working environment we want to create. Somehow we need to bring users, applications and all kinds of devices together within the digital workplace, which today extends well beyond the physical boundaries of the organisation itself.”

It used to be relatively easy to develop a coherent strategy and set of processes, as there were only a small number of factors to manage. “Typically, an enterprise environment might have Windows Server 2008 at its heart, with Office 2007 deployed on clients and flexible, with Microsoft Systems Centre being used to provide management and control. All we really needed to know – as administrators or systems integrators – was which applications users required and what kind of client device they wanted to use. It was then just a matter of making those resources available and ensuring that staff were suitably trained and able to make productive use of the tools and resources provided by IT.”

But the continual advancement of technology and the changes to working practices have complicated matters and raised expectations, says Justin. “In recent years, faster and more available connectivity and bandwidth has fuelled the rise of mobile computing and the cloud, extending the ability of individuals to work at anytime, anyplace, anywhere, using a variety of devices. Collaboration and unified communications tools have made it possible for remote teams to share rich data, update documents and work together efficiently, regardless of where the individuals that make up a team are located.

“In the data centre, virtualisation has made it possible to condense server and storage resources and deploy new applications and services much faster. More data is being gathered and stored and Big Data solutions are making it possible to analyse and extract value from databases in new ways.”

That’s not all either, he points out. As well as the core operating systems, client applications and remote access capability, IT is also now expected to run and manage a range of different operating environments needed to accommodate the rich array of devices now being used in organisations. IT must also provide secure access to private and/or pubic cloud-based services and applications, and a reliable infrastructure over which to run these services. It’s expected to deploy new services faster and scale-up compute power and storage capacity almost on-demand, and to manage and control mobile, as well as fixed-access devices.

All in all, it is quite a challenge and anything that can make life simpler and make IT systems easier to manage, is going to be warmly welcomed and embraced.

What does Windows 10 deliver?

While Windows 10 can’t address all of the challenges IT departments face, but it does go a significant way to unifying and simplifying access at the client level. With Windows 10, you have a single, consistent interface that runs across all desktops, notebook, tablet and smartphone devices.

It is context-sensitive and will switch to the appropriate mode for the device in use. On hybrid devices it will switch from desktop and a presentation mode when the device is physically flipped between those positions. You can use touch and conventional mouse and keyboard controls interactively too, so it I easier to work in a really natural way, using whatever kind of control feels most appropriate.

Some of the key features and the benefits they deliver are as follows:

Start menu

In Windows 10, Microsoft has brought back the popular Start menu feature that has disappeared in Windows 8. This simple navigation aid is simple, effective and intuitive to use, so it immediately saves time and makes users feel at ease.

Cortana

Microsoft’s much-vaunted and discussed voice-activated assistant and search feature might not seem to be of much relevance to working practices today, but Cortana really works and once users master Cortana, it has the potential to massively aid their productivity. It could be especially useful when working on a tablet or smartphone when you do not have a readily-available keyboard option.

Microsoft Edge

The new Edge web browser replaces Internet Explorer and comes as part of Windows 10. It has been designed and written from scratch to take full advantage of the capabilities of modern processors and architectures. It supports key technologies such as Cortana and while it may take a little getting used to, it’s a welcome replacement for the 20-year-old legacy IE. It may be worth noting that all browsers prior to IE11 will be end-of-life in January 2016.

Universal apps

The Universal apps capability was also there in Windows 8, but it’s much simpler and more effective in Windows 10. Essentially, this is a developer feature that enables makes it easier for software companies to create solutions that work across all kinds of devices. This means you have consistent interfaces and procedures (as well as code), so there is less complexity and less potential for errors.

Windows Hello

This friendly-sounding feature makes use of the capabilities of devices to ensure fast yet secure accessibility to devices. It will support the use of cameras and fingerprint sensors to allow a user to gain access to the device and its core functions.

Microsoft Passport

An additional level of security is provided for apps websites and access protected resources and services, via two-factor authentication with Microsoft Passport. This simple and effective sign-on process is very secure and saves users a lot of time.

Built-in MDM

Built-in mobile device management (MDM) enables company security policies to be applied to devices and applications. The built-in management component can communicate with the management server. It is ideal for BYOD as it can be applied so that users own privacy and information us not compromised when the on their personal devices to connect to the business network.

Windows as a Service

Windows 10 is designed to be an ‘as a service; operating environment, so it is always kept up to date and secure. While fixes and patches have always been provided when needed, this will now become a more continuous and seamless process and Windows evolve rather than leaping to major new service packs and versions every few months or years.

Continuum

The Continuum feature of Windows 10 is one of its most impressive new capabilities. It is really an extension of the device-sensitivity of Windows 10 will turn a tablet or smartphone into a fully-functioning PC if you plug the device into an appropriate desktop terminal or port replicator. All functions, apps and documents will scale-up for use on the PC device, automatically.

A great leap forward

In many ways, Continuum sums up everything that is great about Windows 10; it adapts to the way that you want to work and the device you are working on and in this respect, Windows 10 has a great deal offer, says Justin.

“We are all working in a much more flexible and fluid way now and making use of different devices at different times of the day and in difference scenarios. Windows 10 is adapted to meet this much more dynamic way of working, so it really will help organisations to do more and get more out of their technology investments. It’s a big step up in terms of user productivity. It is also a completely unified platform and it is also very secure and much more consistent, so it is easier to manage and support, which is great news for IT staff as well as users.”

There are licensing editions for every level, from home users to the large enterprise, he points out, and for education too. The need to accommodate virtualised environments and highly distributed organisations has been fully considered too. While upgrading to Windows 10 across the estate will obviously bring some challenges, excellent migration tools are available and SCC has fully-trained Microsoft professionals who can assist with every step of the process, from initial discussions around device strategy and infrastructure assessments, through to application migration and testing and user training.

With Windows 10, Microsoft has taken a massive leap forward, providing an operating environment that is designed to meet the needs of today’s much more dynamic and mobile working practices and providing a very consistent and secure platform that can be used really efficiently anywhere in the virtualised and hybridised infrastructures that are now being built.