Windows 8.1 'Blue': Is it a service pack, a redesign, or a rebranding?

Windows 8.1 'Blue': Is it a service pack, a redesign, or a rebranding?

Summary: Windows 'Blue' represents an effort on Microsoft's part to change the way we think of the Windows update cycle, perhaps to get us ready for a subscription service.


Within moments of Microsoft revealing that the Windows "Blue" update to Windows 8 would be available for free to all existing Windows 8 users, a barrage of questions began pounding the Hardware 2.0 mailbox, most of them basically asking one thing:

Does this means that Windows 8.1/"Blue" is nothing more than a service pack?

I think that things are not as clear cut as that, and I believe that Windows "Blue" represents an effort on Microsoft's part to change the way we think of Windows and its update cycle.

(Image: Microsoft)

One idea that we can dispel for sure is any notion that Windows "Blue" is a "new" version of Windows. It is not, and if nothing else, the version number being kicked up to 8.1 should remind us of that. Even Microsoft is referring to this release as "Windows 8.1". There's no way Microsoft could push a new version out of the door yearly.

So, if it's not a new version, what is it?

I see several possibilities as to what it means.

The first is that "Blue" is a service pack, just like the myriad service packs that Microsoft has previously released for Windows. While the primary purpose of service packs is to roll updates and bug fixes into a single download, Microsoft has also shown that it is willing to put operating system tweaks and refinements into service packs.

Businesses in particular seem to like service packs because they're a sign that the operating system has attained a level of maturity that makes it ready for the workplace.

Personally, I think that the idea of the service pack is somewhat outdated. I see little benefit in promoting a release that consists of little more than previously released bug fixes.

Another option is that "Blue" is a redesigned version of Windows 8, and that the update will bring to the table more refinements and tweaks than one would expect from a regular service pack, and that it is an attempt to address the issues that have been raised by Windows 8. It's interesting that Microsoft itself is referring to "Blue" as Windows 8.1, and not as a service pack for Windows 8.

This is not new, and it is how Microsoft refers to Windows Phone updates. For example, the Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" release was considered part of the Windows Phone 7 family.

This is an interesting approach, because it allows Microsoft to incrementally improve on its software, while at the same time generating more buzz for incremental releases than a service pack could generate. It also means that bad situations — such as the one Microsoft found itself in with Windows Vista — can be sorted out much quicker.

Another possibility here is that Microsoft is keen to rebrand Windows 8 in an attempt to give the new release a new feel, and hopefully brushing under the carpet the bad feeling that the removal of the Start button and making users boot into the Metro/Modern UI Start Screen.

There's some logic to this. Windows Vista never managed to shake free of the bad cloud that the initial release generated, despite most of the issues plaguing early adopters being fixed by the time the first service pack hit the scene. As a result of this, the operating system failed to gain good traction during its lifecycle.

A bad vibe can stick with a product throughout its entire lifespan. Microsoft now knows this, and it could be keen to avoid this happening with Windows 8 by rebranding the next update as a new release, no matter how thin that veneer might be.

There's another possibility that goes hand in hand with rebranding, and that is that Microsoft is trying to change the way we think of new version releases for Windows, possibly in an attempt to move to a yearly update cycle, and maybe even to shift forward to a subscription-based system, where we pay to use Windows as we use it, rather than paying for monolithic releases every few years.

While consumers seem to prefer monolithic software releases — it gives them the option to pay for a release and use it until the hardware moves on to the point where it no longer supports it — software companies aren't so keen on them. It's getting harder and harder to convince customers, consumers and enterprise users alike, that they need to buy the newest releases. Subscriptions also keep the cash rolling in on a regular basis, and take the pressure off having to constantly innovate to keep the interest of potential buyers.

Adobe has already decided to take its Creative Cloud suite in this direction, and there's been chatter that Microsoft is considering the same.

So, is Windows 8.1 a service pack, a redesigned version of Window 8, or rebranding on Microsoft's part? Personally, I think it is Microsoft taking what would normally be a service pack release and using it as an opportunity to redesign and rebrand Windows 8, while at the same time trying to change the way we look at Windows releases.

Windows 8 is Microsoft changing the way it does business. Some of those changes — such as ditching the Start menu and dumping people into the Start Screen — may have been a change too far, while others, such as introducing an app store, were a step in the right direction. By revamping the concept of service packs, Microsoft is giving itself some leeway whenever it tries to push one change too many onto users.

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft, Operating Systems

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  • Windows 8.1 'Blue': Is it a service pack, a redesign, or a rebranding?

    Microsoft Windows 8.1 Blue is an update to the current version of Microsoft Windows 8 but its not really that important what it is just that it gets released. I'm not so sure they are preparing for a subscription service. If a user purchases Microsoft Windows 8 and Microsoft continues to give out the updates for free throughout the 8.x life cycle then its money well spent. One purchase over 5 years then you upgrade your hardware and you get the latest version of Microsoft Windows and the cycle repeats. A subscription would imply that you would have to pay for every point upgrade. I think you are jumping ahead of yourself on this.
    • Agreed

      I hope they don't go the subscription route. I plan to buy a computer over the summer for (replacing the one I have currently), and on a collage student budget I wouldn't be able to afford it. :/
      • build your own computer

        (its easy) and put an OS on it that you actually own (ps: its not a microsoft OS)
    • To be honest...

      I'd like the option of a subscription - either that or all upgrades to be in the 19 Euro range, like the initial Windows 8 Pro upgrade. I like to have the latest version on at least some of my machines, so I always upgrade. The updates, like Blue are free anyway, but one machine went from Vista to 7 to 8, if the price hadn't been so low with 8, it wouldn't have been upgraded.

      Rolling Windows into something like Office 365 for an additional Euro a month would be fine by me, as an OPTION.

      No Creative Cloud blunder though, keep it as a perpetual licence for those that don't want to upgrade and give regular upgraders the option of renting.

      I used to get the MS Action Pack, which brought all updates for all OS, Office and Server products for a couple of hundred bucks a year, for up to 10 devices, that was great, but I no longer qualify for it.
  • The main thing is will it save Windows 8

    I'm not sure if it matters right now very much what the 8.1 patch/service pack/whatever is called. In the future, it may matter a great deal if it represents a new paradigm. Already, we know it will be released from the Windows Store, which IS a new paradigm.

    However, what IS important right now is whether the fixes/changes in 8.1are enough to save Windows 8. In particular, will Windows 8 be made enterprise-friendly.
    Asok Smith
    • Yes, Windows 8 needs saving

      Selling 100 million units is clearly the sign of a product that needs saving. /s

      Clearly all that is needed to declare a product in need of saving is to declare that a product needs saving. Say it often. Say it loudly. AKH and Asok are clearly happy to oblige.
      • I'm sure it will eventually be fine

        Sure, you hear a lot of reports about people buying machines with Windows 7 on board and a Win 8 license bundled..but never actually making the upgrade to the machine. So...that counts as a Win 8 sale for MS, but not really a Win 8 adoption. No problem's still a sale for MS and $ in the Redmond bank account. MS will be fine, at least for a while. People will eventually one service pack or another and, as it has in the past, eventually MS will get Win 8 to a place where it's acceptably usable to the mainstream. Sooner or later those XP holdouts will have to switch to something. If MS eventually gets it right...enough of them will stick with one flavor or other of Windows and the Redmond juggernaut will roll on.

        Especially with Toddy leading the cheer section so ably!
        • Yet even adoption numbers crush the competition

          60 million Windows 8 machines being actively used. What a disaster. /s
      • Or, it could just be listening to customer feed back

        Not necessarily saving, I agree, but a company should listen to there users. TBH, microsoft could have avoided much of the hate by just giving a few simple choices to the user, like using an old button in the left corner (it doesn't even have to make the old menu appear, just have the start screen appear when the mouse clicks it, boot to desktop, etc)
        • Icyrock I agree

          Companies should always aim to improve their products, even those like Windows 8 that are absolutely crushing the competition.

          Doesn't mean they need saving. What next, are we going to suggest that Samsung released the S4 because the S3 needed saving?
          • I've actually seen that argument before

            I've actually seen someone make that argument before on YouTube. The S3/S4 "argument" I mean.
          • Crushing the competition?

            And I'll bet you keep wondering why no one can take anything you post seriously. Have you thought of running for Congress? There are close to 400 folks that use you brand of illogic waiting to welcome you there.

            Just a thought...
          • That depends

            quite highly on how you define "competition". Using a more inclusive definition, Windows 8 is still being soundly crushed by Win 7, which is bad news for a company that wants its customers to continue buying their new products instead of sticking to the old. The latter does not make them as much money, and too much of it puts them out of business. Win 8 does make them money, and does will not put them out of business, and in the long run I don't think Windows 8 is a disaster for MS so long as they do address the reasons for its slow adoption in comparison to other Windows releases, but assuming their goals and expectations for Win 8 was something greater than "being on more desktops than Apple", then reports of its disappointing performance are entirely valid so long as they don't descend into ipad fanboy "Death of the PC" hyperbole.
          • Absolutely crushing ?

            Absolutly crushing the competition hahaha :D you're hilarious !
            Windows 8 has been sold for 30 dollars in the beginning and you were able to trade it in for 14.99$
            And it didn't sell very good at all ..
            Not to mention there was a glitch where alot of people that had illegal versions bought it for 14.99$

            So if you think those sales are good ..

            Samsung sold 1 Billion Samsung Galaxy S3's ..

            that's good when you only have a competition of Apple and Linux
            And you sell only 80 million that's very low .. not to mention at the low price.
            Let alone if it will sell at higher prices
            Nico Lafertin
      • You do realize...

        If the market required every person build their own computer these numbers would be quite different, and honestly more people would see the quality improvements of aftermarket hardware choices as well.
    • Rolling it out here...

      No problems with enterprise readiness here - in fact, many users are requesting it, when they hear that they will be getting new PCs!
  • It is a Riddle, Wrapped In A Mystery, Inside An Enigma.

    THAT is what it is.
    William Farrel
    • you know, users are stupid

      So they won't be able to figure it all out and.. skip Windows 8/Blue.
      • Please explain

        So because users won't know what to call this free update, they won't install it?

        You can't make this stuff up.
        • when I am not designing computers

          I am just an humble user, who does not pretend to ever understand what those Enigma etc complex words mean. I leave that mysterious knowledge to gurus like you and your team of Microsoft preachers.

          I have better ways to spend my time than to decrypt the message Microsoft tries to deliver.

          By the way, don't underestimate the power of human imagination. Whatever boosters they take in Redmond, seem to be very effective!