Are Microsoft 'updates' like Blue really more than service packs?

Are Microsoft 'updates' like Blue really more than service packs?

Summary: Are Microsoft's new, more rapidly delivered releases like Windows Blue and the Visual Studio 2012 updates just 'service packs in chunks'? One Microsoft exec explains why they're not.


"Update" is becoming an increasingly loaded -- and important -- word at Microsoft.

Windows Blue is an "update" to Windows 8, Microsoft officials stressed this week. The Office team is now using "update" to refer to collections of new features that the company is adding to a product or service (as opposed to "upgrades," which are entirely brand-new versions). The Microsoft Dynamics team has been using "update" the same way for a while now. And the Visual Studio team has been rolling out regular "updates" to Visual Studio 2012 for the past few months; the third of these, VS 2012.3, is almost done and hit the release candidate milestone earlier this week.

A number of Microsoft users have questioned whether these updates are simply new names for service packs. I've pointed out that service packs in Windows were supposed to be "just" bug fixes and not new features. But Technical Fellow and Team Foundation Server Product Unit Manager, Brian Harry, made this point more eloquently in a blog post from earlier this week.

Harry posted a very candid response to a tester's question about Microsoft's thinking around the new Visual Studio update process. The questioner asked whether these updates were simply Service Pack (SP) 1 delivered in pieces. Here's what Harry said:

"I also don’t think it’s 'SP1 in chunks.' The kinds of changes we’ve put into the (VS 2012) updates go FAR beyond what we would have historically included in a Service Pack. Service Packs had an 'aura' that they only contain bug fixes and while that was never strictly true – any time someone proposed a Service Pack change that didn’t smell like a bug fix, there was a lot of justification that had to be done. One of the fundamental mindset changes with the move from 'Service Packs' to 'Updates' has been that the primary value of Updates is new value – and sure we’ll fix a lot of bugs too, but that’s not the focus. Read my posts on the updates and you’ll that generally the bug fixes are a footnote. They are all about the cool new capabilities we are enabling."

While no one from Windows or Office has been anywhere near this upfront about what constitutes and update, I'd bet the thinking is similar, if not identical on those teams.

Not so long ago, Microsoft execs would talk about a major/minor product delivery strategy. Windows, especially, was all about delivering a big-bang release, followed by a more minor one three years or so later. A greater emphasis on services and devices meant that thinking no longer made sense, as many users now expect more regular, frequent updates.

Does Update = Free?

Pricing is the one piece of the new Microsoft "update" puzzle that is still unknown -- at least on the Windows and Office fronts.

With products like Dynamics CRM and Visual Studio 2012, Microsoft has been making updates available for free to users who purchased or subscribed to the latest versions of a particular software/service deliverable.

Microsoft's Windows Chief Financial Officer Tami Reller's pronouncement this week that Microsoft will be revealing Windows Blue SKUs and pricing before the end of May had a number of Windows 8 users up in arms. They immediately assumed that any mention of "price" must mean Microsoft intends to charge for Windows Blue. And a number of these users feel like Blue -- at least the pieces of it that have leaked so far -- are more product refinements and/or features that should have been in Windows 8 when it launched in October 2012 than features for which they should be charged more money. 

I've heard rumors that Microsoft plans to make Blue free for existing Windows 8 users. I've also heard rumors that Microsoft intends to charge existing users a "nominal fee" for Blue (the same way that Apple has been charging for updates to Mac OS X). I'm more inclined to believe it will be free -- especially given a late April "All Things D" laptop guide by Walt Mossberg indicated that Microsoft and/or OEMs had said Windows Blue "will be available to current buyers as a free upgrade."

(I asked Microsoft officials this week about the All Things D post and was told the Windows team had no comment.)

One more tidbit from Harry's post this week: VS 2012.3 is the last of the updates coming for Visual Studio 2012. The next deliverable on the roadmap is VS V.Next, which some tipsters have said is Visual Studio 2013. This is probably what I've heard called "Visual Studio Blue."

I'd think Build 2013 is where we'll hear lots more about this new version of Visual Studio, as well as about the evolving app-dev model designed to bring Windows Blue, Windows Phone and maybe even the new Xbox more into alignment.

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft, Software Development, Windows, IT Policies


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • A transparent Microsoft scam

    That's what these new "updates" amount to, and Microsoft, which has been relentlessly milking consumers for well over a decade, has now found yet another way to make money. Speaking strictly of Windows, they release a "new" OS which they know at the outset is flawed--that it contains thousands of lines of code which don't behave as expected. They've gotten away with that all this time because they did, at least over time, fix some of the most egregious flaws by means of old-style free updates and service packs. So you could figure that if you ponied up and paid the amount Microsoft was charging for its latest, greatest OS, while it might run like a pig out of the box, eventually, say in a year or two, they'd manage to make it do at least most of what it was supposed to do. Now, though, it's occurred to them that since they make a lot of money (or have in the past, anyway) with each new Windows OS release, why not simply do releases more often? That is, why bother with all those free updates and service packs for the buggy POS they sold you in the first place, when they can just as easily charge you to "upgrade" or "update" what never worked as advertised in the first place. If any other company did business the way Microsoft does, that company would long ago have faced fraud charges on a global scale.
    Robert Schiele
    • Apple has been doing this for years.

      They release what's equivalent to a service pack, and call it a new OS.

      The biggest difference between OS X and Windows releases is that a Windows release is always a big one, whereas an OS X one is usually incremental.

      Both have had their share of bad-eggs (Vista, Lion), and both have fixed their problems (Service Pack 2, Mountain Lion).

      Still, you sound a little nutty, so I think its safer just to walk away.
      • Obviously, you hear what you want

        and don't know what you're talking about. I have used 4 versions of OS- X. Each has added significant new features and performance improvements. Best of all, an upgrade cost $20 and can be used on 5 different machines.

        If you thing Mountain Lion is a service pack, then you know not of that you speak. Personally I haven't had a single problem with both of my Lion OS X Macs. and find them both superior to Snow Leopard. My Mtn Lion machine just screams though. All are vastly superior to my Win 7 machines.

        Still you sound completely misinformed, so I think it's (notice the apostrophe used to concatenate it with is) best just to say this and ignore anything else you might post.
        • I've only used 3.

          SL, Lion, and ML.

          I've also used XP, Vista, 7, and 8.

          ML is very similar to 7 in performance, whereas 8 has both beat.

          Where 7 has loading, ML stutters.

          However, on a decent Sandy Bridge machine, both reach a level without problems.

          I don't know the specifications of your Windows machines, but both OS's have hit a road-block in performance.

          The only thing left to do is optimize, something that both W8 and ML have done well.
          • Good grief!

            Way to spin it man, you probably think Windows Vista Ultimate wasn't a complete con? Users were promised "Ultimate Extras" what did they amount to?

            Yeah, exactly, a massive con job.
          • And then I left Windows

            Yep, Windows Vista Ultimate users were promised "specials and extras". Basically, nothing arrived. At that time, Vista Ultimate cost about >AUD$500. It was a massive lie and double rip-off by MS. After that, I went elsewhere for my main OS.
          • Ultimate

            Ultimate did have some enhancements that Business and Home didn't have but nothing huge for the casual user.
            I had the choice of Windows 7 Ultimate or Windows 7 Pro to install. I took Pro as I didn't need the extras that Ultimate included.
          • The only ultimate Extra worth it

            Was Hold'Em Poker...

            And I loved it so much I found a hacked package on the net to install on 7 after I upgraded and still use it on 8 today.

            The best card game Microsoft ever made and it was given only to a
          • ultimate

            Thats right even the most basic linux distro comes loaded more stuff than Windows crap. LInux is far superior product
            Diego Novo
          • hmm.

            Nobody's going to take Linux seriously when you smack-talk like a Ritalin-deficient 14-year old.

            Just say "Linux offers way better bang for the buck than windows", then cite a few key examples (price = zero, built-in office apps, etc).
          • If Microsoft is going to insist that things are going to change this much..

            Then it is time t change from Microsoft!
            Tim Jordan
          • Can someone Pleas replace Ballmer at Microsoft

            Bill, your friend is fat and ugly.
            Tim Jordan
          • Wow

            Love my job, since I've been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online.(Click Home information)
          • And....

            You are an idiot who probably paid $5600 for an iMac. Talking about the "Apple Tax"!
          • Ha! Hilarious.

            This has really turned into "not only is my Dad bigger than your Dad, my grand dad was bigger than your Grand dad" argument.

            Your a true mental block.
          • Then....

            Don't use Windows ever again!
          • So when some say's both

            Mac OS and Windows both work well it's a con!
            Seems you live in a dream world inhabited by Mac User's!

            Reminds my of an young man who I was talking too, he was mucking about with his Mothers Windows machine, he is a computer User only, not one who should be fiddling with and OS function. He is also primally a Mac user, the proof of the pudding is in fact he was trying to hide the fact he crashed his mum pc from her. So I did something he shouldn't have causing the Window 7 computer to crash.

            His answer was NOT to take responsibility for what he did, rather to "blame it" on Windows and use that as an excuse to talk his mum into buying a MAC.
            Personally I don't care what him and his mum uses but to blame the OS for your own mistakes is pretty sad!
        • so

          but how much you paid for each machine? I use linux dont pay a penny my friend
          Diego Novo
          • So?

            You didn't pay anything for your computer hardware? Stole it? Fell off a truck?
        • Tiger -> Lion

          I've noticed, that with each new release, my iMac has become slower and with Lion, it is almost unusable, even after reformatting and re-installing from scratch.

          With Tiger, I could watch a DVD and surf at the same time, now, it is one or the other.

          On the other hand, my Windows 8 tablet, which has a slower processor than my iMac runs fine.