When Microsoft announced that it would launch Windows 10 on July 29, Dell was first out of the gate with a solid lineup of PCs that it would make available with the new OS on that date. I spoke with Dell recently about this development and how Windows 10 has really changed things, not just for Microsoft, but for PC makers as well.
This discussion with Dell answered a number of questions I’d had about Windows 10. These include how its rapid release schedule could possibly be managed, of course, but also which Windows 10 features PC makers like Dell could use to differentiate their products.
The schedule, of course, is top of mind.
Think back to Windows 8, for example. For all its changes, Windows 8 was released on a familiar and traditional schedule, with a months-long wait between RTM (release to manufacturing) and GA (general availability, or launch), giving PC makers time to prepare and ship new hardware around the world. We didn’t really see truly innovative new hardware for a year or more, mostly because PC makers needed some time to understand which designs would resonate most with users. But these firms had plenty of time to stock the market with new product in time for Windows 8’s launch.
But with Windows 10, the schedule isn’t just shorter, it’s almost not even comparable: As I write this, there are just over three weeks to go to Windows 10 GA, and the product hasn’t even RTM’d yet. Forget about Microsoft’s self-inflicted challenges for a moment: how can PC makers like Dell possibly get new hardware into the market in time for July 29?
As you might expect of a phased release like Windows 10, Dell is starting off with a slate of 9 or 10 existing models that can be preordered now and then expand the portfolio as we move forward. So in this way it is mimicking Microsoft’s staged rollout for Windows 10 with its hardware.
“We won’t ship to customers until GA on July 29th,” Dell’s Marissa Tarleton told me. “But they’re teed up now, and we’re adding more configurations in the coming weeks and will have a bigger selection on the 29th.”
“Planes only fly so fast,” Dell’s Peter Fontana said. “And it’s fair to say we’re getting close to the point of no return. This is a very extreme schedule, the fastest and most complex schedule we’ve ever had, with the largest coverage in the shortest amount of time. But it’s very important to us to meet the back to school schedule. We are not going to miss this, and we will respond nimbly and accelerate as required.”
Dell says that Microsoft accelerated the Windows 10 launch date very late in the schedule—it was originally set for the 2015 holiday selling season—in order to accommodate back to school sales, which start in July. Tarleton also told me she was happy for this change, despite the challenges.
“This is the first Windows release I can remember that aligns with seasonal demand, with the back to school season,” she said. “This is exciting, and while the US is at the forefront, we’ll have a worldwide rollout very quickly with more and more hardware appearing in Q3 and Q4.”
Fontana added that Dell’s early engagement on Windows 10 paid off, and made this suddenly quicker schedule all the more possible.
“Because we started so early, back in late 2013, we knew what was happening with the product and were ready [from a hardware perspective,” he told me. “When Microsoft changed the date, we reacted very quickly with a comprehensive plan across the product side, technical support and customer service. So it wasn’t a drastic change, just an acceleration.”
Knowing about the hardware advances coming in Windows 10 allowed Dell to start seeding the market with new PCs that already take advantage of these features. So while the firm is now selling PCs that work quite well with Windows 8.1, they will work even better with Windows 10.
“We decided early on to hone in on those features that were important to both Dell and Microsoft,” Fortana said. “Touch, obviously, but also audio for Cortana and camera technology for Windows Hello. The current products you can preorder for Windows 10 include these technologies, and new PCs—especially 2-in-1s and laptops—are coming in the next quarter that will further optimize on the Windows 10 experience.”
Dell’s Windows 10 PCs have advanced microphones and audio capabilities courtesy of the Dell Wave Max audio experience, which will allow Cortana to work well even in noisy environments. And Dell’s RealSense cameras, available now on some PCs and coming to more tablets and then laptops this fall, will enable instant sign-in with Windows Hello, even in darkened rooms.
(If you have RealSense-enabled Dell hardware now, Intel and Dell are testing the drivers and should make them available soon.)
“The security functionality in Windows Hello is important,” Fortana said, “but it needs an investment across both the OS and the hardware. You won’t believe how quickly and how well it works.”
The other major change with Windows 10 is that Microsoft is now handling upgrades. In the past, this was a responsibility of the PC makers. Asking about this, I was surprised to discover that Microsoft had in fact been working towards this end.
“The Windows Vista to Windows 7 upgrade was all on Dell,” I was told. “But Windows 7 to Windows 8 as a mix. We were responsible for capturing the customers, but Microsoft was doing the fulfillment via a web site and DVD dispatching. This one more seamless, but it’s an evolution. Now, they’re deploying the OS over the air, and Microsoft is touching the customer’s machines directly, starting with an upgrade notification.”
Under this evolved system, Microsoft is handling the end to end logistics fully, but Dell and other PC makers are working with them on customer service.
“We have to prepare for the questions our hardware customers will have,” Fontana explained. “Driver issues come back to us at Dell, to our support. We have premium support options for consumer customers and professional support channels for commercial customers. And we’re sensitive to the strong install base of Windows 7, and understand that varying degrees of support are needed.”
Interest in Windows 10 is very high, Dell told me, and customers appear to be evenly split between wanting to upgrade existing PCs and purchasing new hardware.
“We’re seeing a few things,” Tarleton said. “The interest level is very high, and about 80 percent of our customers are ‘very aware’ that Windows 10 is coming. They are equally interested in the free upgrade as they are in new PCs. The upgrade is free now for the first time, and the upgrade experience will be good, and we have service and support ready. But obviously, buying a new PC is most compelling choice, given our investments in technologies like audio, touch, screen and security.”
You can learn more about Dell’s Windows 10 offerings on the Dell web site. And when Windows 10 launches, Dell will offer a new support web site for upgraders.
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