Decision Maker

Microsoft's Faster Software Release Cycle: A Blessing or a Curse for IT?

Don Jones breaks down how the quicker timetable between software releases means that user feedback will be more important than ever when crafting the next versions of Microsoft software.

We're entering a strange new phase in the world of Microsoft business software. The company has -- at least for the time being -- truly committed to delivering more, smaller releases of software. We're going to be getting new versions of Windows, we're told, about every 12 to 18 months or so (the number varies a bit depending on the source), instead of every three to five years. We can probably expect each release to be less revolutionary and more evolutionary. Frankly, that's nice. I'd love to not have to rediscover Control Panel again every year.

The IT world in general hasn't quite embraced the impact of this new approach. At least not the Microsoft-centric IT world -- the Linux guys have been living this way most of their lives. For example, book authors and publishers in the Microsoft world typically take eight to 12 months to get a book out, and rely on it having a two- to three-year shelf life. They're going to need to work faster, and be able to do revised editions more quickly. They're currently used to publishing only books about the latest version; that, too, will need rethinking, as we're more likely to have three or more versions of Windows in production at any given time.

Need for Speed
But there's an impact on you as well -- an impact about which I don't think people have thought much. Ask yourself: Why is Microsoft taking this approach? The cynical -- and I'm sure at least partly true -- reason is that Microsoft wants to switch us over to leasing its software, giving it a steadier income stream and diminishing its need to rely on upgrade revenue. By issuing smaller, more frequent releases, we'll "fall behind" faster. It's a model that's beginning to work for companies such as Adobe, and I'm sure it makes Redmond's bean counters pretty excited.

But I think there's a less-cynical reason that's even truer. The fact is that IT is changing faster than ever as businesses get more competitive and as disruptive new technologies come from every corner. Microsoft is under tremendous customer pressure to deliver new features, and to deliver them fast. Smaller, more frequent releases will let Microsoft target today's problems today, rather than always being a bit behind the curve. Imagine, for example, Windows Server 2015 coming out with just one or two major features, meaning the entire development team can put their eyes on just those features. Then, Windows Server 2016 can focus on one or two other features. In that way, the company can put significant resources into just a few things, getting them out the door and then moving on. It's not quite agile development, but it's probably as close as Microsoft can get when it has to worry about its code running reliably on a billion computers.

Getting Personal
So what does this mean for you? Well, if Microsoft is adopting this model so it can deliver needed features to customers faster... then you need to tell Microsoft what features you need. I'm constantly amazed at the number of IT folks who don't know how to give feedback to Microsoft. Go to connect.microsoft.com. Log in and start providing feedback on the products you use. Flag bugs. Log suggestions. Vote on other bugs and suggestions. Do this constantly. At your own internal IT meetings, gather suggestions and assign someone to liaise with Microsoft via Connect. Microsoft pays attention to these suggestions, although it won't seem like it does. (The company can't publicly discuss what it's working on at any given time, so your suggestions will seem to be ignored until they're actually implemented. Be patient.)

This whole "we're shipping a new version pretty often" idea may make you roll your eyes and long for the simpler days of your youth. But, allegedly, you're the reason for these tighter product cycles -- so you might as well get the benefit by helping Microsoft align those cycles to your needs.

Of course, this also means your datacenter is likely to be less homogeneous than ever, but I bet most of you have some mix of Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012 already, so what's another version or two in the mix?

What's on your wish list for your mission-critical Microsoft products? It's time to engage with Microsoft and let the company know.

About the Author

Don Jones is a 12-year industry veteran, author of more than 45 technology books and an in-demand speaker at industry events worldwide. His broad technological background, combined with his years of managerial-level business experience, make him a sought-after consultant by companies that want to better align their technology resources to their business direction. Jones is a contributor to TechNet Magazine and Redmond, and writes a blog at ConcentratedTech.com.

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