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Windows 10 cross-device apps will sway enterprise hardware decisions

New mobility features in Windows 10 will work best with the company's own devices. That might be enough to influence enterprise PC and tablet preferences.

If Windows 10 lives up to the hype, it will push enterprises toward adopting the next generation of Windows PCs and tablets.

The latest Windows operating system represents a major step toward an omnichannel, cross-device world. As long as you are playing in the Microsoft ecosystem, Windows 10 enables employees to work with documents in Office in a universal app format, allowing you to pick up where you left off seamlessly across devices. That sounds like a recipe for a strong user experience, but the new cross-device capabilities work best with the combination of a Windows PC, a Lumia phone and a Surface Pro 3 tablet, of course.

So what does this mean for the enterprise hardware market? Microsoft hopes that Windows 10 can nudge companies toward purchasing Surface tablets instead of cheaper PC and tablet alternatives from other vendors. The problem for Microsoft is that it didn't create this interoperability seven years ago when it still could have headed off the enterprise competition. In the meantime, the upswing of bring your own device (BYOD) policies has resulted in a heterogeneous mix of Microsoft corporate servers, Macs, Apple iOS and Google Android mobile devices, the occasional Blackberry and a host of enterprise mobility management tools.

Will IT scratch the Surface?

Each company has its financial limits, but keep in mind that there is plenty of value in enabling your workforce to take advantage of the new features in Windows 10.

Many IT shops will remain in a holding pattern until they can do a cost-benefit analysis and determine whether switching to Microsoft tablets would be worthwhile. It would be difficult for many businesses to change from a BYOD tablet -- like an iPad with personal information and work information all on one device -- to a Surface Pro 3 tablet for work only. Even if it catches on, I still foresee the transition to Surface tablets over traditional PCs taking a number of years.

What does Microsoft have going for itself? For one, a good portion of the IT workforce is set to retire over the next 10 years. Many of those workers have developed whole careers around updating Windows OSes for traditional desktops. The new generation of IT professionals, on the other hand, grew up in a mobile world and come better prepared to implement Windows 10 cross-device apps for peak productivity in enterprise environments.

Also important to note is that Microsoft will discontinue support for Windows 7 in 2020. That's close enough that many IT departments will soon be planning strategic transitions off Windows 7, if they haven't started already. Money-conscious companies often work on an "every other" policy when it comes to OSes, so many of those relying on Windows 7 might be ready for an update to a more mobile-friendly OS like Windows 10. Microsoft is trying for a two-front victory here: If organizations upgrade to Windows 10, there's a good change they will also want the hardware that Windows 10 performs best on.

You might even see companies invest in devices such as the 84-inch Surface Hub for conference rooms rather than the current norm of large screen televisions. The Surface Hub, which is scheduled for release later in 2015, is a supersized all-in-one device that should be just as compatible with the Windows 10 cross-device apps as Windows PCs and mobile devices. That means employees could interact with the Surface Hub using a Surface tablet or Windows Phone -- yet another reason for enterprises to consider adopting those devices.

Even with everything Windows devices have working in their favor, I still envision a mix of enterprise devices over the next three to five years. BYOD policies around non-Microsoft devices have gained a strong foothold within the corporate world and remain an obstacle to Microsoft's vision.

In addition to non-Microsoft mobile devices, it's likely that companies will continue to purchase Windows desktop PCs for a long while. I believe we will see a rise of virtual machines for workers who manage phone systems or are confined to their desks, but there will still be a large number of PCs purchased in the next few years, albeit on a slow decline. Many companies will hold onto Windows 7 in the near term, but their reliance on software designed for traditional PC workflows will slowly transition over to enterprise and third-party apps.

I foresee the move away from traditional laptops coming a little faster, with Surface tablets soon dominating Windows shops. The day may soon arrive when smartphones are the primary tool for workers who are not desk-based, but I do not expect the same success level for Windows Phone devices as with the Surface. IPhone and Android phones should continue to rule the roost.

As always, cost will be the deciding factor in whether companies invest in Windows PCs and tablets. Each company has its financial limits, but keep in mind that there is plenty of value in enabling your workforce to take advantage of the new features in Windows 10, as it can increase productivity.

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