Should Windows consumer and enterprise flavors remain in sync?

Should Windows consumer and enterprise flavors remain in sync?

Summary: Microsoft may be considering delivering the consumer- and business-focused versions of Windows client on different schedules, going forward, according to Terry Myerson, head of the operating system group.


Does it make sense for Microsoft to continue to release consumer and enterprise versions of Windows simultaneously, as the company speeds up its product delivery pace?


Maybe there should be different cadences for different customer groups.

That possibility was raised by Terry Myerson, the Microsoft Executive Vice President in charge of the company's unified operating-system engineering group, during his remarks at the Credit Suisse 2013 Technology Conference on December 4.

Myerson noted that the needs of consumers, who tend to be interested in having their operating systems update on their own on a quicker basis, are different from those of IT pros, who may prefer policies that control the pace of updates. Myerson said it may not be the best strategy for the consumer and professional flavors of a particular Windows release to hit the market at the exact same time, going forward.

Windows Millennium Edition (ME) was the last version of Windows client using the Windows 95 code base. After Windows ME, which shipped in 2000, Microsoft released its subsequent consumer and "pro" versions of Windows simultaneously.

Microsoft execs still haven't ever said officially (as far as I recall) that the company's plan of record is/was to deliver a new version of Windows every year. They have said they planned to deliver new releases more rapidly, as evidenced by the release of Windows 8.1 a year after the company shipped Windows 8.

Microsoft execs have not gone public with their planned roadmap for whatever follows Windows 8.1. However, I've heard the next Windows deliverable will be a Windows 8.1 Update 1 release around the spring of 2014 that is meant to bring Windows and Windows Phone programming interfaces more in line with one another. After that, my sources have said, Microsoft plans to deliver a new version of Windows which will be part of the next wave, codenamed "Threshold," around the spring 2015 timeframe.

Some IT pros have not been appreciative of Microsoft's more rapid release pace, noting that new versions of Windows require substantial testing and planning before they are deployed widely across the company. If Microsoft does end up releasing the "pro" versions of Windows less frequently than the consumer ones in the future, I'm sure a number of business users would be happy.

(There's no word what Microsoft is planning/thinking about the pace of Windows Server releases. The Windows Server team, following Microsoft's July reorg, sits with the Cloud and Enterprise group, not the unified Windows team. Microsoft execs haven't said whether Windows Server releases will continue to be delivered in sync with client in the future, as they have been for the past decade-plus or more.)

During his Credit Suisse appearance, Myerson emphasized that the unified operating system team's goal is to build "one platform that powers all our devices."

This doesn't mean one flavor of Windows for all purposes (embedded, tablet, phone, PC, console), however, he acknowledged.

"Each form factor requires a unique, tailored experience," he emphasized. Yet all of these form factors will be able to take advantage of a common set of cloud services, he added.

(That sounds like "one core, many SKUs," to me.)

And for those wondering whether Myerson might have made it to the finals in terms of the Microsoft CEO lottery, Myerson jokingly assured the Credit Suisse audience that "the new CEO will not be me."

Update (December 5): Here's exactly what Myerson said on the different cadence topic (from a transcript of his remarks):

"And with the consumer versions of our products and the enterprise versions of our products, or the professional versions of our products, we will be focusing on serving each of those customers and delighting them. And there may be different cadences, or different ways in which we talk to those two customers. And so 8.1 - there's 8.1 and there's 8.1 Pro, and they both came at the same time, it's not clear to me that's the right way to serve the consumer market. It may be the right way to continue serving the enterprise market."

Topics: Mobile OS, Microsoft, Tablets, PCs, Windows 8, Windows Phone


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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  • My vote is to keep them unified.

    In fact my vote is to do away with the "non-pro" and "pro" versions and make just one version.
    • But then what?

      Do they charge home users more or do they charge business users less? There's no win-win solution in that situation.
      Michael Kelly
      • If MS wants to give business customers more...

        ...and thinks they'll pay more to get it, then it's welcome to distribute premium versions of Windows. But management should remember that their customers do have other choices and that competitors (particularly Linux distributors) are not bound to follow MS' lead. And it's also a lot more work to manage six versions of a product than it is to manage one.

        But for sanity's sake, MS should have a single Windows kernel, core libraries and API.
        John L. Ries
        • They can and do sell premium versions of Windows

          Granted they've cut down on the number of them, opting instead to sell add-ons like the Media Pack. But I think it's wise to only offer the minimal necessary upfront and charge for additional features and software (and NOT charge additional fees to NOT cripple the basic OS, the way they did with the Starter SKU). Home users won't want to pay any more of a premium than they already do for basic Windows, in fact MS should be working to reduce the base price due to competition. But business users should be expected to pay for additional features they want MS to provide. And yes, let the market decide how much that cost should be or whether it's worth MS's while to even offer anything.
          Michael Kelly
          • Back in the 90s

            Windows NT was considered as the premium edition of Windows over Windows 3x and 9x. Microsoft has been on a single code base since the release of Windows XP.

            Going back to a single SKU would reduce support headaches and since Windows 95 was $100, they could go back to that pricing.
          • Back in the 90's

            Windows had a monopoly. You really can't compare then and now.

            I have no problem going with a single SKU, but that single SKU should cater to the minimal customer, the customer that just needs a base operating system with base applications. Anything additional a customer needs should be considered an add-on.
            Michael Kelly
          • No

            That is the problem we have now. Especially with BYOD taking off. People buy their own PC, take it to work and then are surprised that it doesn't work, because they bought a Windows PC and they needed to buy a Windows PC, that had Windows Pro installed.

            I am all for the basic installation not having all the corporate tools activated for home users, but they need to be accessible.
          • Not 100% true

            They have been on a single KERNEL since Windows XP, however it was a separate codebase form the server editions (ie. they were separate forks/branches with different version numbers). The codebases had alternating release times (win 2000 pro/server, then winXP for client OS, then Server 2003 for server OS, then the 64 bit win XP which used a tweaked 2003 server kernel).

            It was only with Vista/server 2008 where they TRULY had the same code base--Win7 and 2008R2, win8 and 2012 also had same release kernels).

            MSFT is strugging to adapt. They feel left out with the rapid release of Android and other Linux OSes as well as iOS and MacOS. They cannot grow their market share in mobile computers without the ability to adapt quickly. However they have a huge user base in traditional PCs and servers that is very adverse to change (witness the reception of Windows 8--the culture is "it isn't broken so don't fix it").

            As I just posted the solution is right in front of their faces--release using the "Debian model". Establish a proper package management system in the style of an apt repository instead of iTunes/Windows store, and have a "stable" and "current" release, with the latter being a rolling release (perhaps with stable being a one-time purchase and current being a subscription service), and occasionally--every 2 to 5 years--a snapshot of "current" would become the next "stable". Security updates would be back ported, and the only difference between the various "editions" would be what extra packages (free or extra cost) that you'd install from the repo. Outgrown workgroups, install "Active directory" package. Need a web server, install "IIS" package. Want to hook it up to a TV, install "windows media" package.

            And there you go--buy "Windows" for $49.95 then buy packages you need--if any at all. Like the latest and greatest? Well, then you just order a subscription to the "current" repositories for $9.95 a year and never have to do a major release upgrade again. Enterprises could easily manage this too by connecting to their own repositories--think "WSUS the Nexxt Generation". They could not only stay on stable, they could review all patches/package updates prior to roll out even easier than they can with WSUS now--because it would not be limited to just the OS or even just to MSFT software it could be for any vendor's software or even in house apps all in one place.
            Mark Hayden
      • If MS wants to give business customers more...

        ...and thinks they'll pay more to get it, then it's welcome to distribute premium versions of Windows. But management should remember that their customers do have other choices and that competitors (particularly Linux distributors) are not bound to follow MS' lead. And it's also a lot more work to manage six versions of a product than it is to manage one.

        But for sanity's sake, MS should have a single Windows kernel, core libraries and API.
        John L. Ries
        • Single

          they do have a single kernel and core libraries. They are moving to a single API (WinRT), hence the Modern side of Windows currently. And with each new release that single API is getting closer and closer (just read this article), so that Windows Phone and Windows are merging into a single whole.

          But dropping Win32, ActiveX and all the other legacy baggage is going to take a while.

          That said, just look at Linux distributions, that has a plethora of APIs and UIs. Even if you go for Gnome, some applications will need some KDE libraries and QT and the same goes the other way round; if you are a KDE of XFCE fan, but need some applications that are built using Gnome libraries, you need them installed as well.

          Even OS X suffers from this, to a lesser extent, having used various APIs over the years, although they seem to be less afraid of snubbing their user base and dropping the APIs totally on newer versions of the OS. The users are then either stranded with an old OS, that isn't supported and working applications, or they have to upgraded to a supported OS and buy new software. This is something that MS has always been scared to do, because large corporate customers often have legacy code that relies on those old APIs.

          With the move to WinRT and modern UI, I think we will see more and more of the legacy API crud shuffled off into a VM which gets called as needed to run that old legacy code, leaving the core Windows more efficient and able to scale better from ARM phones, through Atom tablets to high performance desktops and servers.

          They certainly seem to be getting there, Windows 8 on a low power Atom SoC runs a lot better than Windows 7 on an old Atom desktop chip...
          • pushing me to linux

            Well, if it occurs that the desktop goes away and only the Metro interface is available I'll have to migrate my working environment to linux. Four active windows on screen at once just won't cut it. Luckily for me I could do this right now. I design/develop firmware and all but one of the tools I use have linux counter parts.

            The one size fits all OS might be nice for Microsoft but it will remove capabilities and features available to the user. We've already had 3d buttons and such removed from desktop PC windows to cater to the lack of power available to the phones and tablets. How many other things will be removed because they won't work well on mobile devices?

            If the desktop goes away, my biggest gripe will be that I won't be able to write apps for my own use (or for friends). There's no sideloading of apps at the consumer level. I started my computer career as a hobbyist back in the 70s and I write lots of programs for my own use. With the limitations impose by Microsoft that all apps must come from the Microsoft store, there's no incentive for me (or other hobbyists) to write apps for the Metro UI. Since I'm an old fart and not far from retirement, I'll probably end up using linux as my OS (if the windows desktop goes away).
      • Today, consumers can buy ...

        ... home and business versions of Windows. The business version is more expensive and includes different features.

        Enterprise customers do not have access to these versions. Instead, they can chose Windows Enterprise and Windows Server editions.

        Things need to be left as they are.
        M Wagner
      • just activate features by license

        If you look at products like VMware esxi it is all the same base OS it's just features are activated by license. Netapp does the same with ontap, as does Dell with their iDrac's.

        It's what smart companies do, so of course Microsoft will not do it.
        • that is what they do

          Windows is already like that they have a server version and a desktop version, and the license level determines the features included in each

          In terms of VMWare and ontap, those prices are fairly expensive for those features because their install base is much lower, if they were to sell only "bundles" then they would alienate many customers.

          In a desktop OS, the cost in a VL environment is very cheap, and the difference between standard and enterprise is only a few dollars per device. In VMWare, the difference is a few thousand per device. Big difference.

          In our case we just pay for the site license and don't have to worry about it. In the end you save money because of the discounts for buying in bulk, but you also don't have to spend people time managing licenses, which is often where the real cost is when trying to manage all your desktops
      • apps and addons

        enterprise version is really the same, with different addons and apps pre-installed.
        sell a single version of windows, and sell app-packs for the additional enterprise functionality.
      • They can be honest for a change...

        ...and charge all users the same LOWER price to EVERYONE for the SAME PRODUCT.

        Just have WINDOWS. No "server", no "enterprise", no "ultimate" no "home" no NOTHING. Have a single LOW price for the *basic* OS and then pay by functionality. that is actually installed--and only install what is used.

        There is something not right about how MSFT has historically distributed Windows. All non-server install media of XP were identical save for a single file for example (you could image a retail DVD and change it into an OEM bychanging a single file, and even home edition to pro can be done with a simple registry hack and reboot.

        This is dishonest policy in my opinion. Why charge so much more to business when you are physically putting the same files on the computer? It actually takes them MORE effort to engineer the CHEAPER version because they have added extra code to Windows to CRIPPLE it depending on a product ID. If they just stopped with the crippling code and just created the same base OS for EVERYONE it would be less costly and the savings could be passed on. Thus the right thing to do would be to charge the lower price.

        For businesses who need active directory, or users who want extra multimedia capabilities, or people who need server stuff, well then they can install it (and they can pay extra if MSFT so chooses). People who just need the basic OS can do without the bloat if it is actually NOT INSTALLED instead of just disabled as is the case with so much of Windows today. Enterprise can have their tools for maintainging the custom install scripts/answer files/etc. to make their workstations and servers have exactly what they want.

        To compete with Linux operating systems they will have to emulate their distribution strategy (if not their open licensing). Steer everyone towards a unified package management system, provide repositories, allow enterprises and third parties to maintain their own repositories and make windows update infrastructure the ONLY supported way to update (ie. no more bullcrap with Windws Update, plus Adobe update, plus Java update plus whoever elses update, plus outside tools like Altiris). Windows is a miserable dogs breakfast--they need an APT or YUM equivalent With a unified (and open--as in NOT just "windows store") repository infrastructure MSFT would be able to have a SINGLE SKU of windows and have downloadable (free or paid for) packages for features/components.

        Unfortunately it looks like they are going the opposite way--they want to go back to the dark ages and fork their code bases based on market segments. If there is any branching to happen then distribute the slow "stable" version widely and let people select the "cutting edge" version on their own. Only power users like the rapid change anyways. This works for Debian after all, and the "cutting edge" could be subcription based if they wanted to for all I care.

        MSFT cannot be so blind as to see how antiquated their model is--but are they ignoring how the "Free world" does things becasue they are afraid of GPL or something? They could achieve this without GPL code if they so choose. I suspect MSFT is too sales and marketing driven now to change as fast as they need to.
        Mark Hayden
    • Latest and compatible

      At work, we test the latest version as soon as it is available, and until now, we have cleared them for use within about 2 weeks of launch.

      The other thing is the increase in the popularity of BYOD. I want the latest version on my hardware and I want to be able to access all the Pro features, for when I am in the office.

      If they split them out, then it will cause problems. Either I will have to sacrifice compatibility with my work environment or I won't be able to access the new features.

      To be honest, I'd much prefer it, if they scrapped Core / Pro versions and just had Windows, full stop, over and out.
  • I think this happens regardless

    Enterprise IT is becoming increasingly pragmatic and will to stick longer with what is working rather that stay on the bleeding edge (and the ancillary costs of becoming an early adopter, such as training). If you look at the history of corporate adoption of various Windows platforms, you'll see that versions that are either too consumer-centric or represent a paradigm shift are almost entirely ignored by the enterprise. A few other reasons play into this: new versions of Windows nearly always work better on new hardware which they are designed for. This hardware normally becomes available simultaneously with the OS release. Take Vista for example. Enterprises no longer do clockwork 3 year refreshes; it is more common to stagger refreshes as old equipment becomes untenable. But even using a 3 year cycle, it's 2 years before a critical mass of new equipment has penetrated the enterprise. By then Windows 7 arrived, better, faster, and by now enough users had exposure to Vista/Win 7 to allow migration with minumum distruption. A lot of these migrations are still going on -- Windows 8 will likely get the Vista treatment until touch-screen laptops start to dominate in corporate ranks (and by then the next version of Windows will surely be out).

    This article sounds like Microsoft wants to control the process more directly. Their goal is to separate corporations from their money, and perhaps they can more effectively do this by separating them from the consumer crowd then bullying them with a more aggressive EOL cycle (something they can't get away with in the consumer arena).
    • tru

      Upgrading an OS doesn't add any value except a few lines on a resume.

      What we concentrate on is how many operating system baselines do we have to support. The less time we spend supporting the OS the more time we have to focus on security and applications.
      • Ostrich with head in hole!

        If you are defering upgrades and spending time on security, then you are putting your efforts in the wrong direction. Many of the reasons for the updates are security releated. So you'd rather try to fix something that someone else has fixed?