Microsoft is preparing to launch a new version of its Windows operating system later this year.

Windows 10 - likely to be the last Windows to be given a version number - has already won plenty of attention for its technical features, including the return of the Start menu, a new browser and wider use of Cortana personal assistant software. However, questions remain on the costs and upgrade path. Analyst firms IBRS, Ovum, Gartner and Forrester have some answers.

1. Windows 10 is not free for enterprise (even for a year)
Microsoft won plenty of praise when it revealed upgrades to Windows 10 would be free for the first year. Speculation quickly turned to whether the kind offer would extend to the enterprise versions of Windows, not just the consumer editions. We now have an answer. "Windows 7 Enterprise and Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise are not included in the terms of [the] free Windows 10 upgrade offer," the vendor said. Software Assurance - the favoured volume licensing arrangement for enterprise customers - remains the best way to quickly get hold of Windows 10, according to the vendor and industry analysts.

2. Even if it were free, would enterprise move that fast?
Unlikely, according to analysts. "One thing Vista did is show enterprises they could hold onto an operating system for two cycles," IBRS advisor Joseph Sweeney told Ianformation Age, noting upgrade cycles were now "five or six years". Ovum's principal analyst Richard Edwards concurs that enterprises are unlikely to adopt Windows 10 in numbers immediately. "I don't see mainstream adoption of Windows 10 until we get towards the end of this decade," he said.

3. But it'll eventually be the new enterprise standard, right?
Forrester thinks so. Even before Microsoft's latest briefing on Windows 10, Forrester analyst Frank Gillett declared that "Windows 10 will become the new enterprise standard, the successor to Windows 7, a status that Windows 8 was unable to attain". After the event, Gillett said he believed Windows 10 would "persuade enterprises ... to upgrade from Windows 7 and be an easy upgrade from Windows 8". Others are more cautious. "It's far too soon to tell [if this will become the new enterprise standard]," Gartner's information management research VP Merv Adrian told Information Age. "They're not even shipping a production version yet. But, he added, "the indicators are all very positive."

4. Maybe consumers can speed things up
Microsoft's 'free for a year' offer may not work for enterprises but it does apply to consumers. The vendor will undoubtedly hope they upgrade in large numbers, and pressure their workplaces to follow suit. "Microsoft are saying, 'We must recapture the consumer market' because the consumer market is dictating what enterprises put on the desktop," IBRS' Joseph Sweeney said. "That's what this so-called free offer is about."

5. Microsoft wants to quicken the cycle again
Microsoft first leaked its intention to create 'Windows as a service' in job postings in April and August last year. EVP of Microsoft's operating systems group, Terry Myerson, has now indicated the vendor will scrap version releases of Windows in favour of an as-a-service delivery model for updates. "Once a Windows device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will continue to keep it current for the supported lifetime of the device - at no cost," he said. "We'll deliver new features when they're ready, not waiting for the next major release."

Gartner's Merv Adrian sees the new delivery model as a positive. "They'll just update Windows the way people update other cloud-based software and not come out with Windows 11 four years from now and disrupt everything again," he said. "That's healthy, and it's useful for enterprises." However, Adrian is cognisant that a cultural shift in enterprise software delivery could pose some challenges. "When enterprises can and have to pay for the parts they will have to license, only time will tell how successful Microsoft will be with this approach," he said.

One issue that has already been raised is whether enterprises will be able to pay to delay the as-a-service cycle. Adrian told Information Age that enterprises can already invoke an option to move slowly on OS updates and that "it doesn't cost extra to do so". However, there remains little visibility on how such licensing options might operate in the new Windows 10 world.