Foley on Microsoft

Can Microsoft Speed the Pace of Windows?

For years, Microsoft officials talked about speeding the Windows client delivery cycle. Some cheered; some jeered. (Those jeering were business users worried about the compatibility testing and training that the introduction of more frequent Windows releases would wreak.)

In 2009, with the arrival of Steven Sinofsky as head of the Windows and Windows Live business, the talk of frequency changed to a focus on predictability. The Windows train would arrive precisely every 2.586 to 3.0 years, and that was that.

But lately there have been some signs of more frequent Windows updates.

One clue comes from the name of the version of Windows for ARM processors. Instead of calling it Windows Runtime (WinRT) 2012, the 'Softies went with plain-old WinRT. Perhaps it's nothing more than yet another nod to Apple, which called its latest iPad plain-old iPad. But it could also signal something more.

What if Microsoft is moving toward not just a more Apple-like naming scheme, but also a more Apple-like delivery model of pushing regular (or at least annual) updates of the OS to users? This might be seen first on the tablet front, as ZDNet UK's Simon Bisson posited in a recent blog post. That would be one way to more quickly transition developers from the Win32 to the WinRT programming interface -- and to get fixes and updates pushed to users more quickly and reliably. Bisson did add the caveat that it would be easier and more likely for this kind of a change to occur on ARM tablets first, given that the OS is embedded and locked to specific devices. Add that to the fact that current and potential tablet users have iPad-ingrained expectations about how quickly their vendors should be revving their OS, and there's a believable argument for new versions of WinRT being delivered annually.

Another pointer indicating the 'Softies might be softening on their rigid OS delivery schedule came from Bob Kelly, a Windows Azure marketing corporate VP. Kelly recently noted that the cloud is having an effect on how Microsoft thinks about building and delivering software.

"When you're operating on a cloud-first cadence, you don't have a multiyear ship cycle, full stop. Because of the consumerization of IT, you actually have to deliver even your packaged software on more of a consumer-like cadence. And that consumer-like cadence -- whether that's phone or tablet -- looks more annual."

Some other Microsoft units, such as its Dynamics CRM and Office 365 businesses, are already leading with the cloud first. What this means is features that initially debut as part of Dynamics CRM Online or Exchange Online later make their way into the on-premises complements of these services. That, too, is already happening with Windows Server. Microsoft Windows Server 2012 took a number of cues from Windows Azure, the 'Softies have said, in both its overall design and feature set.

But given there's no true cloud complement to the Windows client, does that rule out Microsoft ever moving toward more frequent Windows releases on x86/x64 platforms? Will business users balk if Microsoft puts Windows on a faster delivery track? And does Microsoft, with its new emphasis on introducing products first designed for consumers rather than businesses (then later adding business functionality), care all that much?

What's your take? Would you be in favor of seeing a Windows 2013, 2014 and 2015?

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Aug 1, 2012 Insignificant

What about feature packs aka Power Packs? For Windows Home Server there would be 'power packs' which added new features to the system. This would be a good idea. Or a point release like 8.5 or something. With something like this they couldn't make anything wrong even with businesses, because it would still be windows 8 underneath and everything would still be completly compatible. It wouldn't be a whole new system like Vista -> 7 -> 8. More like a 'Longhorn XP'. So they had the chance to add more functionallity to metro and maybe speed up some other things. And because it's not a 'full' new system, businesses could stay at 8.0 and still get security updates. I think this would be the best idea. =]

Mon, Jul 9, 2012

Here's what I don't get: Why EXACTLY do people want more frequent releases of Windows? What's wrong with what's currently available? It's patched regularly, plenty of support for it, tons of software etc. Now I can certainly understand the desire to get Windows Phone updated a bit more frequently since it is in need of some added functionality, but the desktop/server OS? Why? What's missing? What do people want? Just to see the version number go up? One can not compare iOS to the Windows desktop OS, as it makes zero sense to do so.

Wed, Jul 4, 2012 Thomas Lee UK

We had annual released of NT (NT3.1, 3.5, 3.51 and 4). The corporate market (which is I think the bulk of MSFTs profit) did not want updates that often. For most corporates, what they WANT is to have the software life match their hardware life. PCs these days are routinely 5+ years in normal corporate use - it would be nice to have software 'last' that long (vs the three years MSFT wants via EAs, etc). I do not believe MSFT's engineering processes are well enough tuned to fast updates to make this a sensible approach. The above applies to the server and core client packages. As for WInineRT, given that that is just a consumer 'toy', that team can do what they like. In fact they probalby have to is the Surface is not to go the way of the Kin, and MIcrosoft Bob.

Tue, Jul 3, 2012 Anonymous 2

To get reader's attention focused more on subject, it helps to remove one's view out of Apple's South.

Tue, Jul 3, 2012 Dustin Harper

I wouldn't mind more frequent OS updates, but they'd have to be priced right ($50) and have backward compatibility. I would assume that the changes wouldn't be very major given the short development time, which would concern a lot of people. People already complain that there isn't much different with Win8 than with Win7 other than the UI change. The complaints would range from "Should have been a service pack" to "More money for less features". However, hardware requirements would be an issue. Would a brand new Windows 2015 OS still work with 2012 hardware? Would it be the end of real service packs? Would these be delivered via Windows Update or a new Windows Anytime Upgrade style? Lots of questions, lots of theories. But, I would definitely be a supporter. Less stagnant OS on the desktop, more secure. In an enterprise, though, it would be more fragmentation, more support hurdles, and less upgrading. An enterprise would upgrade once every 5-7 years. That's where MS makes their money, so a annual schedule wouldn't make much sense other than the consumer side.

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