Imagining re-imagining selling Windows

Imagining re-imagining selling Windows

Summary: Windows 8 is, as Microsoft likes to say, re-imagining Windows. With the Release Preview out the door and the final straight now ahead of Redmond, it's time to throw a little wild speculation into the froth of Microsoft-watching, as we like to do every now and then chez Simon and Mary.

TOPICS: Windows

Windows 8 is, as Microsoft likes to say, re-imagining Windows. With the Release Preview out the door and the final straight now ahead of Redmond, it's time to throw a little wild speculation into the froth of Microsoft-watching, as we like to do every now and then chez Simon and Mary.

What if (and I hasten to add, this is a big what if, and not a rumour or any whiff anything from the expanses of the Pacific Northwet) that re-imagining is much more than a new desktop and a new way of developing Windows applications? What if, instead, it's also a fundamental change in the way Microsoft builds and deploys its flagship software, delivering it in a (dare I say it?) more Apple-like way?

We all know the drill. Every three years or so, a new version of Windows arrives. Sometimes it's quicker, sometimes it’s slower. But it keeps on coming, on and on and on, tick, tock, tick, tock. It’s a cadence that drives PC renewal cycles and powers an industry. But it’s also a drag on innovation, forcing a drive to the lowest common denominator of plastic PCs and low cost components. If Windows is changing, then why not use those changes to change the entire PC industry at the same time?

So here's where we start speculating.

Windows RT is Microsoft's biggest change in the Windows 8 time frame. It's where Windows meets the soi-disant post-PC world of the ARM tablet. What it also brings is a big question mark, over how Microsoft is going to keep Windows RT up to date.

It's easy to argue, especially when armed with sales figures, that there isn't a tablet market per se, just an iPad market. And iPad users have become used to annual OS updates that bring new features and new functions to their devices. If Microsoft is to turn that iPad market into a tablet market, it needs to meet those expectations with how it provides updates to Windows RT.

If Microsoft is going to do that, then it needs to leave its three year OS development cycles far behind. There's no point in forking Windows on Intel/AMD/Via from Windows on ARM, so if we are going to get yearly versions of Windows RT, we're also going to get yearly versions of Windows – Windows 2013, 2014, 2015 – rather than the triennial jump to Windows 9.

And if Windows is going to be a yearly thing, the economics of the OS change hugely. Microsoft can't charge £100 for a version of Windows every year. But it might be able to charge £35. Or even get home users to sign up to an OS subscription, getting a new version every year for a simple up front charge. Windows would cost the same as a new version of OS X, and it would be easier for Redmond to sell more complex bundles – for families, and for small businesses.

Regular updates to the OS would also make it easier for Microsoft to move developers away from Win32 to WinRT development, phasing out Win332 APIs in favour of WinRT, even on the desktop, bringing those two very different parts of the Windows 8 experience closer together (and at the same time moving developers further away from old and insecure ways of application development).

Of course this is all pure speculation, even if it makes some kind of sense. I don't have any access to the folk thinking about the economics of Windows or to the folk thinking about how Windows RT will be developed and sold, and how that might affect the rest of Windows. But it's an interesting scenario to explore, and one that could just be possible, thanks to the underlying re-imagining of Windows in Windows 8.

Simon Bisson

Topic: Windows

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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  • How long does it take to test this annual OS on a billion PCs? I don't expect Microsoft can just chuck it over the wall and fix bugs later, the way Apple mostly does....

    Then you have to wonder how long it would take IT departments to install it. Given that 40 percent of them are too slow (or too stupid) to upgrade an OS in 10 years, I suspect an annual refresh wouldn't go down too well ;-)

    But if you are going to have Windows 9 in another three years, then I guess you could have an "8.5" version of Windows RT after 18 months: basically an SP1 with extra features in advance of Win 9.

    What do you think?
    Jack Schofield
  • The Microsoft of today is not the Microsoft of old - the continuous build process that has been in place since Windows 7 is a big change, and the SDLC requires test first design and large scale integration tests.

    I suspect, however, if this does happen it will be for Windows RT devices initially, and once proven will move to x86 with, as you suggest, a Windows 8.5 release...
  • Jack - you keep saying It departments as if they matter ;-) Windows RT, Windows 8, if they are in any way successful will do the same end run about official IT that the iPhone did and the Palm before it and the PC itself before that. Is Microsoft wising up to the need to support the user in dodging IT just as much as it supports IT catching the user dodging?

    I don't necessarily expect this more frequent updating of Windows RT but I will note the phrase Ms and Adobe use talking about putting Flash onto Windows RT "at least in the initial delivery". 1 not a longterm commitment to Flash 2 built in expectation of regular updates that change the system. And Windows RT updates come direct from Microsoft and Windows Update; not gated by PC makers or IT departments
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • Mary:
    > you keep saying It departments as if they matter ;-)

    They matter to Microsoft's revenue stream! To which RT has so far contributed roughly $0 ;-)

    > The Microsoft of today is not the Microsoft of old

    But the IT department of today hasn't changed all that much. Maybe Microsoft can get away with updating RT without IT departments being able to stop it, but it would have to do that without charging for updates. Being able to do it with Windows 8 is another matter....

    Still, interesting thoughts!
    Jack Schofield
    • Personally I'm waiting..

      For another "gang of nine" revolt. With surface MSFT has openly placed itself in competition with its own OEMs, same with pushing WinRT. If I were the OEMs I'd be looking at MSFT the way the clone makers looked at Apple when Jobs came back, that the company I've been doing business with now wants me dead.

      Now you have Valve coming out with a native Linux client, Dell talking up Ubuntu like mad...get the picture? I bet it won't take too many phone calls for the OEMs to band together against the company trying to wipe them off the map and choose Ubuntu LTS as their common base and all agree to support it with money and drivers. ironically while the article talks about yearly releases Ubuntu LTS has gone to a much more corporate friendly 5 years cycle and lets face it folks, the OEMs? Don't look like they have much of a choice since MSFT looks to be wanting to cut them right out of the supply chain.

      I've been on Windows since 3.x but I won't have Win 8, its not a business OS its a tweeting twitting FB spamming social media mess. I'm sure the OEMs can smell the fail coming, have seen how MSFT has been gouging them more and more in a dead economy (last reports had Win 7 OEMs licenses a full 40% higher than XP, even higher than the Vista price jump before it) so if they want to survive they may have no choice but to band together as the gang of nine did all those years before. With a single distro with Steam covering games and non free apps that would solve a lot of their problems right there and give them something they CAN control.

      Either way I feel sorry for the OEMs as its obvious MSFT simply doesn't consider them worth caring about anymore.
      PC builder