Microsoft still has more OS tricks up its sleeve

Microsoft still has more OS tricks up its sleeve

Summary: Over the past couple of days, there's been much made of Gartner Group's prediction that Windows Vista will be "the last big release of Windows." That's a pretty sweeping and vague prediction. Me? I think Microsoft still has some big-bang OS releases in its bag of tricks.

TOPICS: Microsoft

Over the past couple of days, there's been much made of Gartner Group's prediction that Windows Vista will be "the last big release of Windows." That's a pretty sweeping -- and vague -- prediction.

How is Gartner defining "big"? And what will count as an "operating system release," going forward? Will a service pack count? Does a rollup of hotfixes and new features constitute a new Windows release?

What about Microsoft's so-called "Cloud OS" project? Or Microsoft's ongoing moves to modularize Windows (as further evidenced by its patent application for a pay-as-you-go OS)? When elements of what used to be part of a desktop-based version of Windows debut as services, does that actually make an operating system release "smaller," in terms of size and/or importance?

I hear there are other "big bang" OS projects in the works, too. There is allegedly a cross-divisional "many core" effort underway at Microsoft to meld together the Microsoft Research "Singularity" OS project with Microsoft-developed hypervisor technology that will be able to accommodate massively parallel hardware and software.

Singularity, as Microsoft watchers may recall, is a non-Windows-based microkernel that Microsoft researchers have written from scratch as 100 percent managed code. It is being designed, from the outset, to minimize internal subsystem dependencies. On the product side of the house, Microsoft is expected to release a test build soon of its hypervisor virtualization layer, code-named "Viridian."

Will the resulting Singularity+Viridian code count as a "big bang" OS release when and if it finally goes commercial?

Bottom line: It seems a little premature to claim that Microsoft is done with major Windows releases. Even if the Redmondians further blur the lines between service packs and full-fledged OS updates (as they seem intent on doing), Microsoft and its hardware/software/services partners aren't going to let go of the concept of the big-bang OS update any time soon.

Topic: Microsoft


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).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Occam's razor and the end of service packs

    Why not take the most straightforward view?

    Service packs end, replaced by RollUps which can occur more frequently because of the internet.

    New versions of Windows are issued at 2 year interviews, satisfying everyone's need for profits.

    Given the length of time required for major changes, there will be SE (as in 98SE) versions mixed with the groundbreaking releases.
    XP SP 2, for all its enhancements was not a major change to users. It's an early example of an SE release, though without the new features other SE's will require to increase sales. That was Mr. Allchin's choice at the time, and probably the right one.

    That description is consistent with what Microsoft is saying and doing, as I know it, and allows a profitable way forward without major disruptions.

    Other views of Microsoft's intentions appear to have the presupposition that other ways of selling software will become dominant. But that's not necessarily what Microsoft expects.
    Anton Philidor
    • Why would that satisfy profits.

      I'd think it would be the opposite. Since every PC ships with Windows with the odd exception here and there that means Microsoft makes money of the sale of every PC. Retail copies of the OS are very very poor sellers. People usually don't upgrade the OS, they buy a new PC which comes with an OS. So why offer a new point release every 2 years. Why not sit on the OS for 5 or 6 years then release.

      Seems to me that they get the money with every PC sold reguardless of if there is a new OS be it a point release like an SE verion or even a full blown new version like Vista. So wouldn't make more sense to let the profits role in for half a decade saving on the R&D costs of constantly upgrade where you don't see any additional profits?
      • i like having the latest software technology

        i run linux, i upgrade my os everytime there is an upgrade available for my distribution. even if i had to pay for it, i would still upgrade with each new release. that is, on average, every year. my system is very old. but it can do everything the new ones can. if microsoft would do at least a point release once per year, it WOULD drive os sales through the roof. it might even drive new pc sales up. after all, if the software hasn't changed in 6 years, why do you need to upgrade your old computer???
        • Thought they tried that

          Tried it with Windows 9X and found it really didn't work.

          I remember having 3 version of Windows 95 then 2 version of Windows 98 and then ME. I used the first version of Windows 95 on 386 PC, then Win 98 on Pentiume 200 computer. I can tell you I didn't fork out for upgrades and other people I know didn't either. We just got the upgrade with the new hardware. Why fork out $100 for an upgrade that a service pack for the old version gave you anyways. I mean have Windows 98 or 98SE on the spash screen meant nothing.

          Most people skip a few versions like going from Windows 95 OSR1 to Windows ME or even XP.
        • RE: I like having the...

          Why do linux and mac people feel the need to weigh in on windows articles???? If you like your alternate OS keep it! Hush on the things that don't concern you.

          PS I run networked 3D renderers on 3 different WinTel machines, one is a quad core, where is is the "open source" app that does that?
    • XP was an SE.

      XP was Windows 2000 SE.
      Dr. John
  • Singularity wont go commercial

    It's a Microsoft research project, and over and over again the research team has said this is purely a research project, and not an application. That isn't to say the technology behind it will never be used, quite the opposite. The hope is to do the grunt research work and give the findings to the various groups inside of Microsoft in hopes the ideas and concepts can be used in the future. Still, the idea of going back to a Microkernel design after it was claimed to be "dead" by so many does make me smile.
  • Another foolish Gartner prediction ...

    Its amazing how these false prophets avoid being stoned by their customers. To say that MS will never release another major OS update is ridiculous. They are a commercial vendor competing with Sun, IBM, Apple and generic Linux. They will have to continue to innovate in order to keep pace with the pack. They will have to match competitors features and add new ones. They will have to cut new ground with security and stability. Microsoft has owned the desktop for years, now their are potential competitors in the wings. If anything, I would predict just the opposite of what Gartner is predicting. I would predict that MS will outperform their previous record and we will see new stuff one could never have predicted. In reality, Vista itself is not all the big a leap over XP. I thing the big things are not behind us. I thing the really big things are ahead of us. MS has always been a tough competitor that doesn't give up easily. Now they have every reason to become even tougher, and I predict they will, and the consumer will benefit from a leaner meaner supplier who will deliver a better and better product at a more and more affordable price. After all, thats the purpose of competition. On the other hand I think they will learn to live with open source and learn to complement open source products with their own value added products. There are great opportunities ahead for MS and I am confident that they will find and exploit them. The best is yet to come.
    George Mitchell
    • Microsoft will continue to own the desktop.

      Microsoft's most difficult competitor is... Microsoft.

      The company has to improve its products to sell more than would be obtained only with sales on new hardware. Why even improve the hardware if the existing hardware and software work well enough and nothing better is available?

      But you're right that Microsoft is competing with Sun, IBM, Apple, and Linux, as well as Oracle and others with markets the company wants to enter or in which it wants to advance.

      Microsoft is far from finished with expansion.

      Open source in the commercial (pad) arena is represented by a number of comparatively weak competitors and stronger companies using it strategically. It's finally a target of the sort Microsoft can attack.

      For Microsoft, you may well be right that "The best is yet to come."
      Anton Philidor
      • Nix is an OPPORTUNITY for MS ...

        Anton, all these companies, including Apple, are basically nix companies in one or more forms. Microsoft is finally catching up with the net. I believe they will eventually catch up with nix as well. They have the opportunity not only to be a prominent vendor within their own Windows ecosystem, but also a prominent vendor within the emerging unified nix ecosystem. Microsoft has always managed to adapt to change. I suspect they will move in surprising ways in the future not only with blockbuster Windows releases, but also with proprietary nix products that will run on Linux (surprise surprise) that will knock peoples socks off. Underneath the cowboy antics of the likes of Ballmer, there is a whole lot of creativity and imaginative talent in this company and they will adapt and move forward in surprising and innovative ways all over the IT landscape. They are making some blunders along the way (the way they handled the Novell deal for one), but they are learning and moving in all the right directions. Their kneejerk critics are underestimating them by a mile and are all wet. MS indeed has many more surprises in store.
        George Mitchell
      • I don't know

        While it's possible there is change in the winds. I'm not saying it's going to Linux or Mac but big change. I'm thinking we might see a move away from the whole desktop concept to interoperating devices that may or may not run Microsoft software. So maybe this could be Microsoft last real OS. After that maybe it's something entirely different and entirely still Microsoft.
  • They certainly have tricks up their sleeve

    Their OEM channels will keep them in an ocean of cash for the foreseeable future, but the landscape is definitely changing. The alternatives to Windows are gaining traction and there's no way Microsoft can beat the OSS development model.

    I know best what I see in front of me. And what I see is that my personal business network runs just zippy-skippy without any MSFT products. When I go to a customer site with Winders it's like running in sand.

    There's another consulting team with three letters in their name, I won't say which one. There are five of them tasked with setting up a .NET server and clustered SQL Server to support an app that gets maybe a couple million hits a day, with roughly 4-5 million records. A fairly modest system by modern standards. To track all the patches and configuration changes is taking them eight days to stand up the environment. Five people x eight days, plus hardware support, connection management and overhead. Do the math.

    I run my personal systems on OSS that get a lot more traffic, way more records and took me less than a full day to set up and configure. Then imaged the entire setup so I could recreate it in case of a system disaster.

    Windows systems require near constant tweaking and patching. My sites I have to keep written SOP's because it's so rare I ever have to tweak them that I have to make notes otherwise it's new every time.

    I know what I see and what I see says OSS solutions are a better value. You can only hold out against that math for so long, even if you're MSFT.
    • so i'm not the only one with a binder full of

      cheat sheets? it seems like, if i need to actually fix something, i have to dig out my binder of cheat sheets to figure out how to do it. the binder hasn't been touched in so long that it's covered in dust and at the bottom of a very deep pile of paperwork. the system just never goes down. when it does, it's like working on something brand new because i've forgotten how i set it up to begin with.
  • So where is.....

    So where is Microsoft's cheaper OS? They really need to consider releasing an OS that is dirt cheap, if not free. This would allow the market to really have a day on creating a full featured system from multiple sources rather than a one dog show.

    Also, the Gartner Group is known for making predictions in a bubble. This one is no different.
  • Too many decisions

    MS will be moving to some type of hybrid offering for its operating system that will span both a local machine and remote utility.

    OSS is its own worst enemy in many cases. How many distros of *nix are out there...a couple hundred with various levels of support, etc?

    Until the *nix community gets together to form a singular offering that can compete with MS' ease of use it won't make many inroads into the mainstream. The fundamental issue is that programmers or artists seek credit for creating something amazing, and that can't be done when you're trying to be unique in a singularly focused team environment.

    Large companies that get behind a particular version of *nix will ultimately drive the wedge further between a standardized *nix offering since they will make that differentiation part of their business model.

    Will MS ever release a virtually free OS? Not until *nix is consolidated into a mainstream threat, but thanks to individual OSS contributors and for profit companies that won't happen for quite some time.

    As for the subject, people complain that MS is a monopoly; however, if you can get an OS for free then how is it possible to have a monopoly when the substitute is free? Virtually every city has a bare-bones computer store that will sell you a box with no OS on it, so why is it that people say they have no real choice? This can't be further from the truth. If you ask the OSS community which is the best version of *nix to get you will get an array of choices...that's not what people want to hear, and they certainly don't want to sit and compare each distro, research which has better support, updating drivers, compatibility issues, etc. They want a plug and play box, and until OSS can provide that via a simple decision then MS will continue to be the best option for 90+% of users.
  • Billions Of Tricks

    Up their sleeves. They're called dollars. That's the only kind of tricks they have. Buy their competition and close them down. Or offer a profit-loss product until their competition is bankrupt.
    They are presently in a quandary as to how to compete with a free product (open source), but they have enough money to weave a web of deception (wittness their Novelle deal) until they have complete control of the software market, in the US if not the world.
    The general population is brain-dead from watching tv. They won't believe anything unless they're told by CNN, NBC, ABC, or Microsoft.
    Ole Man
    • Rage Against the Machine

      Consumers are not IT people. PERIOD
      No one goes to "Best Buy" to purchase a machine they then have to install an OS on. PERIOD
      The average PC buyer looks at cost, not the "learning curve". PERIOD
      Wake up, and smell the dollar...

      MS will dominate till someone else replaces windows and windows apps on 90% of machines. PERIOD
      Why Rage Against the Machine?????
  • As long as there is someone to copy ....

    there will be upgrades and new OS's!
    Reverend MacFellow
  • I'm all for a new kernel

    We went from the 9x kernel to the NT kernel and ow both are finally seeming to be starting to reach their EOL, a freshly written not so bloated kernel is very much welcome in my book. Bring it on Microsoft! :)

    - John Musbach
    John Musbach