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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