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'Windows 9' Might Come with a New Software Update Policy

Microsoft's rumored "Windows 9" next-generation operating system might kick off a more regular update release cycle from Microsoft.

The updates might be more like Microsoft's Office 365 releases. At least that's what unnamed sources have been telling veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley. Microsoft's next-generation client OS is currently known by its "Threshold" code name, but Foley and other observers have suggested that Threshold might turn out to be "Windows 9," a name that Microsoft has not publicized. Window 9 is expected to be released in the spring of 2015, but a technical preview might be released as early as this fall, according to rumored reports.

In a ZDNet article today, Foley suggested that Microsoft plans to do away with its big client OS releases and switch to a more incremental OS update release model when it releases Threshold or Windows 9:

After Microsoft releases Threshold, sources say, the operating systems group is expected to go the route of Azure and Office 365 by releasing regular, incremental updates to Windows client and Windows Phone on a regular schedule, rather than bigger updates every year or two. (I am not sure right now what the game plan is for Windows Server, but as Server and Client are developed in tandem, I'd guess Server will be on this schedule, as well.)

Possibly, the Threshold preview, when released, will require testers to accept getting mandatory monthly updates, according to Foley's account.

These update releases will include new features, according to Foley's sources, instead of Microsoft's more traditional approach of just addressing software flaws in its updates. Lately, though, Microsoft has been blurring that distinction, with Windows 8/8.1 updates getting feature changes along with traditional bug fixes.

No "Windows 365" Coming
Of course, one big difference between Office 365 and Windows client releases is that Office 365 services are subscription based, whereas Windows is typically purchased through a perpetual licensing model. Could it be that Microsoft would offer a so-called "Windows 365" service, in which users might subscribe monthly to use Microsoft's client OS? So far, Foley's sources have been telling her that's not part of Microsoft's plans.

"I continue to hear there is nothing coming that's called 'Windows 365,'" Foley stated via e-mail. "Also, I'm not hearing from my sources that a paid update/subscription service is in the cards. I really thought this is what they'd do. But my sources say not the plan."

Foley's sources still tell her that Windows Threshold might be offered as a free upgrade, possibly to Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 users. An ARM-based Threshold release is in the works, too, according to Foley's sources. That release "should run on both Windows Phones and tablets," Foley wrote, but it's not expected to be released as a preview until January or February of next year.

It's also rumored in a Neowin.net article that Microsoft will make it easier for end users to upgrade the Threshold OS to the latest version, perhaps through some update "button." The article claims that an early test build of Windows Threshold has this feature built into the OS but that it could be removed by the time of Threshold's release.

It's thought that a public technical preview of Threshold might arrive late next month, possibly on Sept. 30. For a recap of what's confirmed and rumored about Threshold features, see the following table:

Threshold Feature Description Status
"Threshold" name Microsoft's internal code name for its next Windows OS Confirmed by Microsoft COO Kevin Turner in July
Start Menu A revamped Start Menu, shown with Live Tiles and menu items Confirmed by Microsoft Corporate VP Tony Prophet, who showed a screen mockup in July
Windows Store Apps for the Desktop side of OS "Metro" apps will be capable of running on the Desktop side of the OS in resizable windows Confirmed by Microsoft Corporate VP Tony Prophet in July
"Virtual Desktops" The ability to switch entire screen views, similar to a feature in the Linux-based Ubuntu OS Rumor
Elimination of the Charms Bar The menu of Charms commands that's currently present on the right side of the Windows 8/8.1 screen may be eliminated and pushed into the title bars of Window Store Apps ("Metro" apps) Rumor
Cortana integration The Cortana personal assistant app, currently seen with Windows Phone 8.1, is expected to appear in the Threshold release Rumor
Update button Allows users to move to the most recent Windows version Rumor
Arrival dates: a preview is expected in the fall of 2014, maybe Sept. 30; general release is expected in the spring 2015 A public "technology preview" test version of Threshold is planed for "late September or early October"; release as "Windows 9" expected in the spring of 2015 Rumor, with rumored date of Sept. 30.

Microsoft's next operating system (code-named "Threshold"), with rumored and confirmed features under development.

The Office 365 Release Model
If Microsoft does adopt the Office 365 style of releasing updates when it releases Windows Threshold, it may already have a means for communicating its changes in advance. In June, Microsoft announced its new "Office 365 for business public roadmap" process, which uses a portal to alert users of coming changes. The process has a "standard" group of end users and a group of "First Release" testers who see the updates two weeks in advance.

It used to be thought that Microsoft's Office 365 updates were released on a quarterly basis. However, a Microsoft spokesperson claimed that's not necessarily the case. "There is no set schedule of releases [for Office 365] -- not quarterly, monthly, etc.," the spokesperson stated via e-mail.

One big difference is that Office 365 software updates are delivered via Microsoft's streaming "click-to-run" technology, which may not be the preferred process for organizations accustomed to fine patch management controls. Client devices get automatically updated via Microsoft's click-to-run technology unless IT pros set up the updates to stream to a test server first.

Consumer users have a similar experience to click-to-run when they turn on the Automatic Update feature in Windows, since Microsoft's Windows patches install automatically in the background. Organizations, though, likely want more control over the software release process. Microsoft's patches, particularly with its Exchange Server updates and even its Windows 8.1 client updates, have come with some major problems for those who applied them early.

In light of those consequences, Microsoft MVP Aidan Finn has been recommending that organizations defer applying Microsoft's updates for one month, with the idea that Microsoft will then have had the time to have worked out any software flaws by that time. However, if Microsoft does adopt an update process for Windows Threshold that follows the Office 365 update model, it supposedly includes a similar wait period, although with just a two-week window.

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