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How to transition to Windows 10 without the headaches

IT pros should take a step back and decide if an upgrade to Windows 10 is right for their organizations, or they may encounter problems during the process.

Operating system migrations come with inevitable growing pains, and a Windows 10 migration is no exception. Data loss, driver issues and user adjustment to the UI can all complicate the transition to Windows 10.

Many companies choose to remain on older OSes, such as Windows 7, to avoid upgrade problems. Despite Microsoft discouraging this choice by blocking previous versions of Windows from Office 2019, for instance, IT still has the option to continue using an older OS.

Data privacy alone can make IT wary of upgrading to Windows 10. Though Microsoft has stated that mass data collection -- including a user's app usage and search terms -- will help the company design more effective updates, some organizations are unwilling to sign off on such large-scale data harvesting.

Though some will avoid the upgrade entirely, many others have opted to upgrade to Windows 10. But when a problem occurs during that upgrade, it could affect a single user or an entire organization, so the stakes are high. With some specialized software and careful preparation, however, the end result can be a smooth transition to Windows 10.

How can IT prevent user data loss?

Data loss is common during an OS migration, but there are a few actions IT can take to help minimize the losses.

A clean install provides IT with an opportunity to leave behind any instabilities or inconsistencies from the previous OS. A fresh start may sound ideal, but if users store data on local hard disks rather than in a cloud or on network-attached storage, they will lose it during a clean install. With a clean install, IT must take some additional steps, such as checking for expired app licenses and updating them as necessary, to prepare the post-migration applications so that users have access to the software they need.

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If users do not move their data off the local disk themselves, IT can do a manual or automated file migration. With a manual migration, IT must go through the potentially tedious process of moving each user's files to a network-based location and returning them to local storage after the migration. An automated migration takes care of this process, but for Windows 10, IT must purchase compatible automatic migration software to complete the move.

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Perhaps the simplest way to directly address data loss is with an in-place upgrade. This migration method ensures a smooth transition to Windows 10 by maintaining the same applications, personal settings and data that the user had on his previous OS. If this sounds too good to be true, that's because it is, in some cases. Limiting factors, such as disk space and Windows editions or architectures, may preclude an in-place upgrade.

What about app and hardware compatibility?

User applications are at risk during an OS migration, as well, and the requirements after a migration may go beyond simply reinstalling apps. Windows 10 doesn't support certain apps, leaving users in need of replacements. Through proactive research, IT can identify any applications that are not compatible with Windows 10 and find potential substitutes.

The compatibility issues do not stop with the OS. Microsoft Edge, the default Windows 10 browser, can hinder the transition to Windows 10 as well. Edge is incompatible with certain Internet Explorer add-ons, such as ActiveX control.

User applications are at risk during an OS migration, as well, and the requirements after a migration may go beyond simply reinstalling apps.

Hardware issues can make the transition to Windows 10 difficult as well. Typically, a device driver directs traffic, turning software commands into hardware actions. This does not always hold true after a migration; outdated hardware can cause compatibility problems. Hardware must meet Windows 10 compatibility standards, including an 800 x 600 resolution display and a 1 GHz processor. IT will have to either replace outdated hardware or factor the limitations of older devices into its upgrade plans.

How will users adjust to the new OS?

Users had mixed reviews of Windows 10 when Microsoft first released it. This issue is unique because IT can't resolve any gripes about the UI in particular with specialized software or by downloading a patch.

To get users up to speed, IT may have to invest in an extra dose of training on Windows 10. Making changes in waves rather than performing a comprehensive rollout can also help lessen the burden on users to quickly learn the ins and outs of the new OS.

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