25 Years of Windows: How Device Management & Directories Evolved for IT

Written by Leia Schultz on September 1, 2020

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August 24 was a milestone for Microsoft®: It marked the 25th anniversary of the release of the Windows® 95 operating system (OS). Windows 95 brought the PC OS into mainstream use and adoption, shifting user experience away from command lines toward new menu and home screen navigation options.

A lot has changed over the span of Windows’ 25 years for both end users and Windows IT administrators. Not only has the Windows OS evolved, so too have the ways IT teams manage end users on Windows and other devices.

Let’s take a look at how the software has evolved in its user experience and device management capabilities for admins, and what’s possible today with modern solutions like JumpCloud®’s cloud directory platform that reimagines Active Directory® (AD) for modern organizations managing Windows machines and other OSs. (For a more in-depth history of directory services, read this blog by JumpCloud CTO Greg Keller.)

Windows for the Masses

Windows 95 released as a technical and social sensation. Hollywood celebrities and late night talk show hosts helped hype it with star power alongside TV commercials. The message was clear: Windows computers were friendly and accessible to users for what they needed to do in the earliest days of the internet.

Windows 95 introduced the OS’ Start button and menu in addition to the device taskbar, which were all game changing features to enhance the end user experience. These enhancements allowed users to more seamlessly get around their Windows machine, making different applications easier to find and use, including the Microsoft Network (MSN) app. MSN lived as a desktop icon that provided user access to email, chat, and other pages through a dial-up connection.

Thanks to the ongoing development of Windows’ user experience and the software itself, today the OS is among the most widely used globally at home and in the office. For IT administrators managing Windows devices, their growing use among company employees meant that another technology also became a business essential: solutions to protect and govern end user Windows devices in the office. 

Windows Management with Active Directory Services

Microsoft released Active Directory® (AD) in 1999 and for years it was IT’s de facto choice of directory because it was the only viable option in the market that tightly integrated with Windows computers. AD let admins set up on-premises domain controllers to create a network domain that provided end users with access to resources like MS Office, and let administrators apply Group Policy Objects (GPOs) to enforce system configurations and security policies.

AD gave Windows admins a way to manage identities and resource access among other directory-based outcomes for user and device management. When cloud computing grew and started to replace hardware, Azure AD was Microsoft’s complement to AD to help Windows admins extend access to cloud resources (mainly Azure based, of course).

Today, Microsoft offers directory services in the form of AD, Azure AD, and Azure AD Domain Services to IT teams along with a number of ancillary solutions such as ADFS, Azure AD Connect, and others. All three major identity solutions share a common downfall: They’re purpose built for enterprise IT teams managing Windows devices and applications — managing another OS like Mac® or Linux®, or non-Windows applications and IT infrastructure, requires additional tools. And once a company becomes part of Microsoft’s ecosystem, it’s largely locked in to expensive contracts and complex interfaces that make it more challenging to complete device and identity management tasks. Read Comparing Active Directory, Azure Active Directory, and Azure AD Domain Services for a deeper look at AD’s directory options.

The good news: Organizations that aren’t Windows-centric and want to shift to the cloud have new directory services options to evaluate.

The Modernization of Directory Services

When the IT landscape started to center around cloud infrastructure — with AWS® and G Suite™ gaining traction within organizations — AD’s shortcomings became even more apparent to admins looking to streamline and simplify operations for OS management. Add in the new norm of IT supporting remote employees and distributed offices, and AD’s offerings for domain-bound, Windows-only environments are headed the way of the dodo for many modern organizations.

Enter JumpCloud, an OS-agnostic, endpoint-centric, and protocol-driven cloud directory platform built for today’s IT teams. JumpCloud’s platform is not only designed for a simple and efficient admin and end user experience, it consolidates many of the critical features IT administrators need within a single web console.

Windows admins will love features like:

A native system application — the JumpCloud Windows App — brings user identity management right to the device home screen, enabling easy credential updates across a wide range of on-prem and cloud IT resources that minimize friction for end users in the password update workflow. The Windows App also circumnavigates traditional web- and email-based phishing attacks when end users know to use only the app for credential management with JumpCloud’s directory.

For IT admins that want to automate their day, look no further than the JumpCloud PowerShell Module. This powerful tool lets cloud-forward admins manage IT environments at scale for their organization.

The easiest way to migrate off AD forever is with the JumpCloud Active Directory Migration Utility (ADMU). The ADMU provides admins with a secure and efficient solution for transporting users and devices from AD domains into JumpCloud.

The GPOs that Windows admins are accustomed to using in AD are in JumpCloud as Policies that admins can apply to Windows, Mac, and Linux devices. Look at JumpCloud’s full cross-OS Policies list and sort it by device, name, or description to see all the pre-built Policies in the platform. A few of the most popular Windows Policies are: Disable USB; Lock screen; and Full disk encryption with BitLocker. For Windows admins that are well-versed with registry keys, there’s JumpCloud’s Custom Registry Keys Policy, which lets admins customize the Windows OS Policies in their JumpCloud organization.

Try JumpCloud Free (Forever!) for Device Management the Way it Should Be

When you’re ready to explore a directory service for Windows device management and more, try JumpCloud Free and add up to 10 users and 10 systems as you test drive. There’s no time limit to your platform evaluation or even full usage at small organizations.

A better way to manage users, devices, and resource access is possible with JumpCloud. Don’t just take it from us — listen to one ex-AD admin talk about his journey leaving AD for JumpCloud.

Leia Schultz

Leia is a product marketing manager at JumpCloud who focuses on the insights and device management products in the Directory Platform. A native Boulderite, she can be found frequenting local breweries, OZO coffee shops, and hot sauce suppliers, and enjoys seasonal outdoor activities like camping, biking, and skiing (which are all better when partnered with beer, coffee, and hot sauce).

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