Microsoft's new, new Windows cadence: Once a year is not enough

Microsoft's new, new Windows cadence: Once a year is not enough

Summary: What comes after Windows 8.1 Update? Sources say a second update is on its way, and that Microsoft's unified OS group is picking up the delivery pace.


Just a year ago, Microsoft officials were crowing about Windows' much improved delivery cadence. Instead of rolling out a new version of Windows once every 2.5 to three years, the team was now on something closer to an annual rollout schedule.


But the nine-month-young unified Operating System Group (OSG)at Microsoft is now gunning to go even faster.

Russian leaker WZor is claiming that there will be an update 2 for Windows 8.1 coming this September. My sources say that date could be August. In either case, a second update looks like it will hit just five or six months after Microsoft made Windows 8.1 Update available.

(Yes, by calling what was formerly referred to as "Update 1" simply "Update," Microsoft made it seem there would be just one update to Windows 8.1. It's not clear what this second update will ultimately be called. Update 2? Windows 8.2? No word so far.)

The second update may include a version of a new Start menu which Microsoft showed off during its Build 2014 developer conference in early April. But according to my sources, this second update is unlikely to include the ability to run Metro-Style apps in floating windows on the desktop.

Why -- besides the fact that these reports are not coming from sanctioned official channels -- are there so many uncertainties surrounding what's next for Windows?

In part, it's because the Windows team is attempting to speed up its delivery cadence yet again, my sources say. The powers-that-be are encouraging the Windows development team to see how much they can get done within a much shorter timeframe and then plan to deliver whatever is baked in the next few months. That's a much different way of operating from the carefully (overly?) orchestrated plan/build/test/deliver schedule the team followed in building Windows 7 and Windows 8.

The need for speed in "fixing" Windows 8/8.1 is no doubt also spurring OSG. Even with Windows 8.1 Update, which added features that help mouse/keyboard users better navigate Windows 8, many business customers still don't find Microsoft's latest version of Windows familiar and compelling enough for mass adoption.

Terry Myerson, the OSG Executive Vice President, denied that he's trying to put the Windows team on the same delivery track that the Windows Phone team has been for the past year. In calendar 2013, the Windows Phone team rolled out three updates to Windows Phone 8. Rumor has it the Windows Phone team is planning to deliver at least two updates to Windows Phone 8.1 in calendar 2014.

Myserson acknowledged in an interview I had with him earlier this month that he and his team are sensitive to the needs of different constituencies. Business users may not want or be able to handle new updates to Windows every six months. (In a nod to this business/consumer split, Microsoft recently capitulated and gave IT users 120 days -- rather than the originally announced 30 -- to roll out Windows 8.1 Update.)

Back to the Windows roadmap. What comes after Windows 8.1 Update 2 is even more murky at this point. Last I heard from my contacts, Microsoft was hoping/planning to get Windows 9 finished by spring 2015. The aforementioned Metro-Style apps floating in desktop windows -- something Microsoft execs also showed off in early form at Build 2014 -- is supposedly one of the features likely to be part of Windows 9.

WZor claims that the Start button that Microsoft added to Windows 8.1 will work differently with Windows 9. For users with touch-enabled devices, the Start button will behave differently than it does for those with non-touch devices, WZor said.  I don't have any information on this rumor at this time.

WZor also claims that Microsoft is tinkering with the business model for Windows and may make some kind of base-level version of Windows available for free for everyone, but require a subscription to "turn on" the full set of capabilities and features, similar to the way Microsoft requires Office on iPad users to have an Office 365 subscription to do more than just the simplest of tasks with the free version. I haven't heard anything specifically about this from my contacts (yet).

What I did hear last year was Microsoft was planning to realign the set of Windows SKUs that it will offer OEMs and users. A single "Modern" consumer SKU would work on Windows Phones, as well as smaller tablets. Myerson didn't deny this was the plan during my interview with him. He strongly hinted that this new SKU won't include a Desktop allowing legacy apps to run. This SKU is unlikely to be Windows RT as we know it; Myerson would only say Microsoft plans to offer a version Windows that will run on ARM. I believe this SKU will be free.

Other Windows 9 SKUs are expected to include the Desktop and are unlikely to be free, according to what I heard from my sources last year.

The key thing to keep in mind about how Microsoft is thinking about OS delivery cadence, going forward, is that the company is working simultaneously on smaller, nearer-term updates, as well as bigger, longer-term ones. With Windows, Windows Phone and the Xbox One operating systems all working together in a single group (finally), further alignment of OS rollouts and subscription-based business models seems like it should be in the cards.

Topics: Mobile OS, Microsoft, Mobility, Tablets, ARM, PCs, Windows 8


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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  • So by the time the Textbooks for Windows 8 come out...

    Pretty much everything will be changed again. I was reading about how the keyboard functionality changed between Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. The amount of change between an annual update is inexcusable by any operating system. Microsoft needs to get away from revolution, and pick up an evolution model.

    They are failing at Agile development and are killing every opportunity for them to keep their desktop market share.
    • losing desktop marketshare to what?

      I'm not sure if you think this is the year of linux but nothing can challenge MSFT on the desktop. Even windows 7 is a billion times better than linux and chrome OS and its marketshare pretty much wipes out both out of the face of the planet in a second. MSFT is losing share to the destruction of the desktop market to non desktops. This is why windows 9 exists. it isn't a reaction to a desktop OS that is challenging it, it is a reaction to the new wave of consumer computing which couldn't care less for desktop.

      And Agile is all about iterative development in short cadence instead of their monolitic 3 year cycle of the past that missed the mark. You can see Agile in action at the new windows division. Shipping this many releases so fast in an iterative cadence while incorporating feedback and reacting to market conditions the signature of a agile workflow. You're just asking for a return to the vista days and thank lord that thinking is long dead at MSFT.
      • Agile is awesome if the documentation keeps up

        While I end up scouring forums for answers on various tasks, scouring forums shouldn't become the defacto standard on training end users on how to use application software, let alone an operating system.
        • There is Agile done right - and there is Agile done WRONG

          Strict adherence to the principles of Agile works well.

          Trying to cram day-to-day operational activities into the Agile development process is fruitless and a terrible waste of time.
          M Wagner
          • End-of-support problem

            Microsoft needs to fix their end-of-support problem. Linux never goes out of support. Microsoft's OSes die at a very young age. XP is only 13 years old and has died already. Linux is 23 years old and shows signs of living forever. How often can banks replace their ATMs?
            Tim Jordan
          • Great comparison

            There are over 50 linux's available. Check out this link and see Ubuntu's end of support. XP is a version of Windows. You can't compare Linux to XP because XP is a version of WINDOWS. Windows has been around since 1985. That's 29 years. In fact Ubuntu version 12.10 and XP end support the same year and month. TV's with tubes aren't being supported either but flat screen tv's are.
          • not a good comparasion

            and you can upgrade Ubuntu if you want for free. so not the same thing. and I think you'll find that they stopped supporting win 1.0 long ago. as well as all the older MS OSs, regardless if the equipment sold was still working and performing as intended. the move from XP to win 8 for many will require a change of hardware not just loading new software. these older systems cant handle the bloated modern MS OS. many cant even run win 7 acceptably. but they will run linux fine depending if there is driver support for the hardware. I prefer to think of it as a car, when you buy a car you dont want chevy calling you in ten years telling that regardless of mileage or condition they are no longer going to support it and its now considered unsafe to drive so you have to buy a new car. btw the next car could expire in 5 year. chose wisely.
          • Win XP to Win 8

            YOu don't need to change hardware, Win 8 uses less resources than XP. As you complain about changing hardware, why not complain about changing your car to get a faster motor or later model. It the same process. Why pick on MS if they are giving customers a better ride.
          • bad comparison there

            Car dealers stop supporting you as soon as the warranty is over.. some SHOPS however will support you until you run out of money, or the parts can no longer be found. Just for your information, car makers keep parts for a model in the system for 10 years because as soon as they stop making parts the law requires them to release the specs for the parts to After Market manufacturers. So they would gladly expire support in 5 years if they could. After Market guys hope you keep it for a long time, selling you those parts is their bread and butter.
          • False Equivalence

            Comparing only XP with all of Linux isn't a fair comparison. 13 years is extraordinarily LONG for support of a single version. Is there a single VERSION of a Linux distro that came out back in 2001 that it still supported to this day?
          • Your statement (corrected)

            Linux needs to fix their end-of-support problem. Windows never goes out of support. Linux OSes die at a very young age. Every other release of Ubuntu is only supported for a maximum of 5 years while the others are supported for 18 months, or less. Windows will be 30 years old this November and shows signs of living forever. How often can geeks replace their OSes?
            The Heretic
          • Now, perhaps, you understand

            You can't compare a brand name OS to an individual version of that brand name release. PS-Cars go out of support when 7 years old per federal law. No manufacturer is under any requirement to provide support longer than that. 7 years is also the legal definition of a "life-time" guarantee. Far as I am aware the only thing that ever had a mandated longer support life-cycle is an aircraft which really was warranted for life as long as it passes an airworthiness inspection. Hence the very high price to purchase an aircraft, the manufacturer is on the hook for support for 30 years or more. I understand that old rule has been relaxed a bit to increase competition and participation in the aviation field.
            The Heretic
          • Huh?

            You're comparing the lifepan of a kernel to a single OS release. Or maybe you think that every distribution is supported forever? Name one distribution that's supported forever, and I'll send you a cake.
            Michael Alan Goff
          • Linux never goes out of support? Spinning again, we see

            I guess when the truth doesn't benefit your argument, just Spin some facts so they'll "work" for you.

            You're good at that Timmy.
          • "Linux never goes out of support"? Really?

            It's Linux that's pushing the "new version twice a year" "agility", and unlike Windows, they'll tell you not to attempt upgrading an existing installation rather than burning it down and "just" reinstalling from scratch.

            Only every second Linux version is "LTS", and by "Long Term Support", they mean a lifetime about the same as that for a Windows version.

            Add to that the need to upgrade the OS to use new motherboard chipsets - a problem I've seen more than once, as a builder of dual-boot PCs - and you can't count on combining new hardware with a working LTS. It may be "new chipset, LTS, pick One".

            Yes, I know Linux is free, so you can get the next version for free whereas with Windows you'd have to pay for major new versions every 3 years or so. But the pain point is preservation of the installation, which has been possible for longer with Windows than with Linux, if you were obliged to "update" to avoid exploits. As Android grows past Windows and attracts similar levels of exploitation attempts, it will be interesting to see how that goes.
          • Agree

            I work for a large, monolithic software company similar to Microsoft, in the midst of a rocky 2 yr agile transition..where the basic question remains unanswered - how do customers actually benefit from a rapid cadence? For MS beholden IT depts, how will they be able to adjust? Doing agile wrong has caused customer pain for my company, and it appears it is for Microsoft too. Have customers been demanding rapid OS releases? I doubt it. If it's anything like my company, expect buggy software releases, poor customer support and even poorer (if any at all) documentation and training for future MS releases.
        • Here's a clue...

          the documentation, in on disk help, internet help, and third party books, has never kept up. There are things in the Windows XP now fully updated, that will never be correct, still referring to things that were in XP as delivered in 2001.

          Microsoft has not had fully correct help since the days of DOS.
        • @nucrash

          What tasks are you scouring the internet for? I can't believe how many people think Windows 8 is so different to Windows 7. There is a Start screen instead of a Start menu, but other than that what is it you are finding so hard to do? Seriously, people are inventing their own issues from what I can make out.
          • Shut down my computer

            I had to search the internet to find how easily I could now shut down my computer:

            1. Mouse over the little gadget in the lower right corner of the screen. (You can also move your mouse cursor to the upper left corner; same result. Or, you can press Windows-C on your keyboard.)

            2. In the slide-out menu (known as the Charms Bar) that appears, click Settings.

            3. Click the Power button, and then click your desired action: Sleep, Shut down, or Update and restart.

            I still have to search regularly how to perform ordinary tasks.
          • 8.1 fixes that

            with a power icon on the Start screen. Besides that I rarely shutdown any of my computers. I press the power button on my tablet, it sleeps. I lock my desktop computers, they sleep if needed or just remain on with monitors in sleep.