What Microsoft's Blue is and isn't

What Microsoft's Blue is and isn't

Summary: Windows Blue isn't just a service pack. And it's not a precursor to some other version of Windows due out later this year.

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TOPICS: Windows 8, Microsoft
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Though word of its existence first leaked in August of 2012, there's still a lot of confusion about what Microsoft's Blue is and isn't.

dontpeekblue

Partially, this is due to Microsoft officials not saying a whole heck of a lot about Blue so far. That will be changing within the next couple months, as Microsoft completes initial development and delivers an expected public preview of Windows Blue, starting with client and server. But as of now, basically everything you've seen me and others blog about Blue has come from sources with varying degrees of knowledge about Blue. 

The other reason for the confusion about Blue is it seems to be a codename for both products and a change in the way Microsoft builds, tests and releases software. (This same double meaning of the codename applies to Microsoft's Gemini. Gemini is the codename for the next set of Metro-style Office apps — Word MX, Excel MX, PowerPoint MX and Lync MX — as well as the work of the Office team to change how it rolls out new releases.)

Too many people are getting caught up in the weeds about Blue. Specifically, they are confused as to whether Blue is just another name for Service Pack 1. 

It's not. But I understand how some would see it that way.

Windows Blue (Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1) are to Windows 8 the way Mountain Lion (and the other cat releases) are to Apple's OS X. Whether it's about colors or cats, these are new operating system releases.

From everything I've heard — and from leaks we've seen so far — Windows Blue will include both new features and fixes, technically putting it outside the strict "service pack" category. 

In the not-so-distant past, Microsoft's Windows team did allow for new features to be included in a service pack. Remember Windows XP SP2? That version of XP really should have been called something other than "SP2." But the chief of Windows at that time, Jim Allchin, made a conscious decision to use the SP2 nomenclature to prevent any consumer or business customers from holding off on deploying this key, security-focused version of Windows.

After XP SP2, Microsoft's Windows team moved to a model via which service packs only included fixes, not features. I believe this has been the team's policy ever since. Any Microsoft historians: please correct me if I am wrong.

It will be interesting to see if Microsoft ends up calling Blue's successor "Windows 8.X" (with x being some number greater than 1) or "Windows 9." In most ways, this is an arbitrary, and marketing-driven decision. If Windows 8 ends up perceived by the general public more positively than it is currently, Blue's successor may end up as an 8.X release; if it doesn't, Microsoft could end up going with Windows 9 just to distance itself from Windows 8. (This would be very similar to Microsoft's decision to move away from "aspirational" names like "Windows Vista" to "Windows 7," once Vista was poorly received in the market.)

As of now — based on what my sources have said — there will be a Blue wave of products coming from different Microsoft teams. There will be a Windows Blue, a Windows Server Blue, Windows Services (Outlook.com, SkyDrive) Blue releases, and Windows Phone Blue. These are all distinct, next-generation versions that will be delivered in the same "window" of time, meaning a period of several months, as Windows Blue.

The Windows client and Windows Phone teams are moving toward bringing their programming models and developer tools more into alignment. The overarching goal is to enable developers to write once and run on any Windows variant with less code-tweaking required. But the phone and PC/tablet variants of Blue are two different things, regardless of how much Microsoft marketers may attempt to blur the lines. 

 As to reports that the Windows team is working on another, non-Blue version of the operating system that could be released in October of this year, I'm wondering whether this might be a reference to the operating system at the heart of Xbox Durango. After all, that OS is supposedly based on the Windows 8 core, as was/is Windows Phone 8. (While the core is the same, the rest of the OSes, in both the phone and console cases, is different and built by the Windows Phone and the Xbox teams, respectively.) 

But the most likely explanation is these reports are misguided or confused, based on everything I've heard.

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft

About

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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149 comments
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  • features later than XP SP2...

    [QUOTE]
    After XP SP2, Microsoft's Windows team moved to a model via which service packs only included fixes, not features. This has been the team's policy ever since, I believe though any Microsoft historians -- please correct me if I am wrong).
    [/QUOTE]

    Well, I consider Server 2008 R2 SP1 to be somewhat of a feature pack, if one takes into consideration dynamic VM memory allocation in Hyper-V 2.0, which was absent in RTM.
    gwaktek
  • features later than XP SP2...

    [QUOTE]
    After XP SP2, Microsoft's Windows team moved to a model via which service packs only included fixes, not features. This has been the team's policy ever since, I believe though any Microsoft historians -- please correct me if I am wrong).
    [/QUOTE]

    Well, I consider Server 2008 R2 SP1 to be somewhat of a feature pack, if one takes into consideration dynamic VM memory allocation in Hyper-V 2.0, which was absent in RTM.
    gwaktek
    • I think they should ditch the numbers & switch to words (like Blue)...

      Windows 8 is really version 6.2. That makes no sense to a consumer. I understand how they feel kind of gun shy about using words after "Vista," but they need to get over their superstitions and start branding their products properly.

      Since they're now trying to link all of their products... and since all of their products are using different numbers--IE 10, Windows 8, etc... they should switch to words so they can bring everything together.

      So "Blue" would include "IE Blue," "Windows Blue," "Bing Blue," "Windows Phone Blue," etc. It's much easier to understand... and it just sounds better than "8.1". And then every year, the color could change to another color that's in the Microsoft logo. And then after that, start using words like Apple did with "Lion," etc.
      newyorkcitymale
      • Oh you like

        Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice cream sandwich and Jelly bean. I think numbers are easier to understand because they are versions and you can tell in the number which is a later version. See using names would work better if ALL products were released together but they aren't.
        Orlbuckeye76
        • Did you notice?

          All those Android releases you mentioned are in alphabetical order? So as long as you can find another name with the next letter you're fine for about 26 versions...

          So yes it's pretty easy to follow version numbers in Android, until they decided that two releases would be named Jelly Bean (4.1 and 4.2).

          Kind of harder to follow that logic with colors...
          lepoete73
          • MS, Linux & Apple OS Names

            I don't think there's any naming method that's significantly better, though I agree that using a year or a version number is probably easiest. But most Android users have no idea what version of Android they're running and the only way they upgrade is if it's pushed to them.

            I believe that the vast majority of Mac users do not update regularly, if at all and the same goes for Windows users. This isn't the 90's. Back then most home PC users were far more technically oriented than today.

            It's also worth considering that Windows Blue [i]may[/i] be a code name, just like Chicago, Cairo and Longhorn.

            It does seem like MS likes to change naming schemes every few versions. Windows 1-3, then 95, 98 (I'll ignore NT for simplicity) then ME, XP, Vista. Now 7, 8. Whatever they go to, you can be sure they'll change it up in 5-10 years.
            notsofast
          • Not in my experience

            You have the old ladies who have used the same mac for 10 years and it still works, not upgrading anything. On the other hand, for those of us moving forward, $20 for an upgrade that you are fully licensed to put on ALL your macs, and even make unlimited virtual copies within your Mac is too good to pass up.
            ossoup
          • Old?

            Are you saying that anyone who doesn't upgrade to the next OS - regardless of who put it out - is an old lady? If that's the way you think, you need to read some of the posts where people are bragging how old they are and upgraded to the latest version.
            Webminotaur
          • Android versions...

            Er.. I thought Android 4.1 was Ice Cream Sandwich...
            Wolfie2K3
      • You mean like

        Windows XP? and Office XP?
        reziol
      • Already in the mill

        Read Mary Jo's article, fourth paragraph from the bottom.

        "there will be a Blue wave of products coming from different Microsoft teams."

        Actually, I like the year method. That not only keeps things in order, but also tells how old it is (2013 - 19'95' = 18 years old). Much better than the automobile industry that uses the same name on different year-models.
        Webminotaur
  • Windows 8.1 or Windows 6.3?

    I would find it interesting if Microsoft did choose to publicly designate a non-integer Windows marketing name. Currently the version numbering used for marketing purposes no longer reflects the internal Windows version number (returned by the API). Windows 7 was version 6.1, and Windows 8 is version 6.2. I wonder if designation of a Windows 8.1 would prompt Microsoft to consider resynchronizing the internal version number.
    AccountUnwanted
    • Point vs Integer Releases

      "I wonder if designation of a Windows 8.1 would prompt Microsoft to consider resynchronizing the internal version number."

      I doubt it, just due to the psychology of buyers. With a point release, you expect (probably free) bug fixes and minor improvements. With integer release steps, you expect major improvements. (This of course ignores version number inflation such as for Chrome & Firefox!)
      DJL64
      • Personally, I think it was a mistake to deviate ...

        ... form the original Windows NT numbering system. Windows NT 4.0 was a Kernel re-write from Windows NT 3.51. Windows NT 5.0 was renamed "Windows 2000" but the internal name remained. "NT 5.1" was renamed Windows XP. Windows Vista was REALLY "Windows NT 6.0" and Windows 7 is REALLY "Windows NT 6.1" with Windows 8 is internally known as "Windows 6.2"

        Will Windows 8.1 be internally known as "Windows NT 6.3" or "Windows NT 6.2.1"? Multiple number schemes get very confusing very fast.
        M Wagner
      • Major Version Abuse

        That is because Chrome and Firefox somewhat abuse major version numbers where the changes actually made to the software only qualify for an incremented minor version number.

        There is no law on how one has to build version numbers, but there's a reason why the first part is called the major version (intended for major changes) and the second the minor version (for minor changes, respectively). So, Windows 8.1 is a good name for the Blue release, because the features added (as seen in the leaked build) are only minor changes to the platform. Still, bumping up the kernel number again is a bit strange. Technically, it was a big step from Vista to 7 (6.0 to 6.1) and also a big step from 7 to 8 (6.1 to 6.2) - but now another big step? Maybe 6.2.1 would have been better, but there is no micro version in the Windows model like in Linux.
        sevenacids
      • The consumer doesn't really notice

        the real version number. It's because they use the windows 7 and Windows 8 the consumer identifies with that. Look at Android trying to translate version numbers is a bit harder with Windows no one cares because it's know as Windows 8 or 7.
        Orlbuckeye76
      • Version Numbers

        I think one reason they avoid changing version numbers is that there always seem to be problems with apps when you change the major version number, even though it's often just because the app says the version must be, for example, 6.*.

        I don't know what Apples OS's numbers look like, but I'm under the impression that they've been 10.x since they went to OS X.
        notsofast
        • There were other changes though

          Some apps needed to be updated for mountain lion or they would use up to much cpu and battery. Others did not run on mountain lion. you could always revert back with time machine. Windows inherent backups don't let you move back and forth at that level I think. I did a full disk image being used to windows, so when I saw what broke with mountain lion i chose when it was worth it. version number isn't important. what is, is if it fundamentally changes things enough to break or cause issues with old apps. most service packs don't do this and most upgrades have more risk of it. it doesn't matter what they call it, it matters how compatible and tested it is with the existing app base.
          ossoup
          • although...

            with mac, you are not limited like windows licenses. my license lets me make a virtual copy of lion or mountain lion if i want inside parallels, and unlike windows, the license doesn't try to charged for having multiple instances of either on the same machine.
            ossoup
    • syncing numbers

      Hi. From what we hear, this is not happening with Blue. Win Blue is 8.1 and using 6.3. More explanation about that here: http://www.zdnet.com/microsofts-windows-blue-may-have-just-hit-milestone-1-7000011514/

      MJ
      Mary Jo Foley