Solution providers Thursday applauded the updates unveiled by Microsoft for Windows 11, saying the new operating system is poised to improve hybrid work productivity and security while also fixing one of the major headaches for businesses associated with Windows 10.
Microsoft partners say they see a range of opportunities and benefits related to serving customers around Windows 11, which Microsoft plans to make generally available during the 2021 holiday season.
Windows 11 will bring a new “focus, energy and conversation” around the Windows operating system, said Zach Saltzman, senior director for the Microsoft platform at Carlsbad, Calif.-based FMT Consultants, a Microsoft Gold partner. “Customers will need help with the upgrade planning and execution itself, and with all of the cloud integration baked in it should drive both migration conversations as well as security and productivity services enhancement conversations.”
[Related: Microsoft Sets End Date For Windows 10 Support]
Overall, Windows 11 is “more than an incremental feature update to Windows 10 and I already see a lot of valuable productivity boosters,” Saltzman said.
The successor to Windows 10, which launched in 2015, Windows 11 is “the first version of a new era of Windows,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during a virtual announcement event Thursday. “We are building for the next decade and beyond.”
Windows 11 will only see one major feature update per year, in contrast to the twice-a-year feature updates for Windows 10, the company disclosed.
Microsoft will also offer Windows 11 free as an update to Windows 10 through the existing Windows Update process, “which is excellent,” Saltzman said.
“This combined with less-frequent feature updates will help reduce the churn on IT departments,” he said. “Frankly, Microsoft hasn’t done a great job on QA and user acceptance testing of recent feature updates, so a slowdown to once per year is probably a good thing.”
Reducing the major updates to once a year with Windows 11 is an “important” move by Microsoft because it will give customers more time to “settle in on all these new features,” said Michael Montagliano, chief of innovation at ProArch, an Atlanta-based Microsoft Gold partner.
The twice-a-year updates “can become a real burden in an enterprise organization, [which must decide] ‘what new features do I integrate, what do I ignore?’” Montagliano said. “I think it’s a good thing to slow down a bit.”
With much of the workforce being split between home and office, Microsoft framed Windows 11 as a hybrid work solution during briefings and blog posts Thursday. A number of new features and updates in the operating system are focused on enhancing productivity, such as a direct integration of the Teams collaboration app into Windows 11.
The widely used Teams app, which had 145 million daily active users as of late April, will be easier to connect to in Windows 11, Microsoft Chief Product Officer Panos Panay said Thursday. Launching Teams communications—including chat, calling and video calls—will now be a “one-touch” experience and won’t require users to open the Teams app first, Microsoft said.
This capability will be available directly from the taskbar, where Teams will be placed “front and center” in Windows 11, Panay said. Teams users will also be able to mute/unmute their mic and share their desktop or an application directly from the taskbar, Microsoft said.
The Teams integration coming in Windows 11 is “incredibly critical,” said Reed Wiedower, global alliances leader and CTO for the Cognizant Microsoft Business Group, a Microsoft Gold partner.
“This decision to essentially sunset Skype and move folks to Teams is going to make it a far more compelling value proposition to enterprises to adopt Teams,” Wiedower said.
While Teams is hugely popular with business users, many still do not use it for personal communications. But the integration of Teams directly into Windows 11 “will likely cause most of those folks to simply live each day in Teams, whether on their phone or desktop, for work or family,” Wiedower said.
“This in turn is going to help partners who are building solutions on top of the Teams platform because they’ll be able to solve enterprise scenarios and personal scenarios, which will expand the types of solutions and benefit partners of all stripes,” he said.
Other Windows 11 features that Microsoft touted as enhancements for hybrid work include snap layouts for easier organization of windows and snap groups for more quickly returning to previous tasks, including across multiple monitors.
With Windows 11, Microsoft clearly has taken into account that “how we work, when we work and where we work has changed,” said Ric Opal, principal and national go-to-market and strategic partnerships leader at BDO Digital, a Microsoft Gold partner.
“They’ve taken a lot of input over the past 15 months on really what to prioritize,” Opal said. “I’m hopeful that Windows 11 will really light up a ton of functionality and capability for clients and the partner ecosystem.”
In terms of security, partners said they welcome the updates unveiled by Microsoft for Windows 11. The updates will include a requirement that PCs have a security chip, such as the TPM2.0 chip, to run the operating system.
The TPM chip requirement gives a boost to a zero trust security approach, Montagliano said.
“It’s really critical to helping us make certain that that device and that identity is verified,” he said. “That is really important for this zero trust initiative. If organizations start adopting this type of mentality, and leveraging this kind of mindset, we’re going to have much more secure environments.”
Meanwhile, security capabilities such as hardware-based isolation, secure boot and hypervisor code integrity will be turned on in Windows 11 by default, as protection against malware and “sophisticated” attacks, said Nicole Dezen, vice president for device partner sales in the Global Partner Solutions organization at Microsoft, in a blog post.
With Windows 11, “I love that they’re putting security in the forefront,” said Ryan Loughran, reactive service manager at Valiant Technology, a New York-based MSP. “Requiring TPM2.0 is a great move and turning on the other security features by default is fantastic.”
During the pandemic, “clients went from one office and one network to hundreds of offices and insecure networks,” Loughran said. “Security is so much more important now since you don’t have that single office control that we used to have. Hardening endpoints is probably the single most important thing that IT providers should focus on.”
Miguel Zamarripa, CIO of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Simpleworks IT, also praised the focus on security in Windows 11, as security is the “top concern” with customers right now.
“It’s great to see Microsoft taking more serious steps in making sure their OS is as secure as possible,” Zamarripa said. “Any step you can take to harden your security is a positive one, including making TPM2.0 a requirement.”
Windows 11 will also offer an array of updates to the user interface—including a centering of the Start button and taskbar icons (similar to macOS), a redesigned Start menu (replacing live tiles with pinned apps and recent files) and the use of rounded corners across the operating system.
“I think that macOS customers that don’t necessarily need a Mac but like the look and feel of it will enjoy Windows 11,” Loughran said. “The user interface is minimalist—at least from the previews—and easy to navigate, just like macOS.”
In terms of channel sales opportunities, Dezen said in the blog Thursday that “showcasing the benefits of modern hardware on Windows 11 can accelerate device refresh.”
In addition, “by leveraging Windows and Microsoft 365 technologies and tools such as Azure Active Directory, Intune, Endpoint Analytics, Autopilot and Cloud Configuration, partners are well-positioned to deliver highly scalable, cloud-based device and application deployment, management, custom solutions and support services,” Dezen wrote.
Ultimately, Windows 11 will “definitely be a boost for business customers,” Saltzman said.
“I see them starting to treat Windows updates and feature releases much more like they treat Microsoft Office in regards to integration and synergy with Microsoft 365,” he said. “If you are a business customer using Microsoft 365, you will benefit from leveraging the modern life-cycle management of Office and now Windows 11 to get the latest and greatest integration, security and productivity from all sides.”
Opal also said he’s also optimistic about what Windows 11 could do for business customers—with the potential for the operating system to enable “quicker business outcomes.”
“Hopefully in the end the client experience is greatly improved, the security and compliance is greatly improved, the integration of apps and experiences is even more seamless,” Opal said. “If they land that, they will have been very successful.”