Windows 8 GA update is a good start for Windows 9

Windows 8 GA update is a good start for Windows 9

Summary: Integrating improvements to Windows made for specific PC hardware into Windows 8 now rather than in SP1 bodes well for faster future releases. It's something Microsoft needs to be doing to keep up with Apple's iPad.

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Microsoft always updates Windows between RTM and General Availability, when PCs with the new version of Windows go on sale.

Some of those fixes might be specific to the hardware and drivers of the PCs they're developed for, but often they are created because running Windows on new hardware shows different results and problems than on the current generation of PCs. Think of the way Intel Sandy Bridge Core processors needed an update to the dynamic timer tick code in the preview releases.

The updates wouldn't be the full new versions of Windows we're used to today

In the past Microsoft has passed those fixes onto the Sustained Engineering team — the same ones who will be delivering Flash updates and the monthly Windows Update fixes while the engineering team works on the next but one release. Generic updates that apply to all PCs have tended to arrive in the first service pack of a new version of Windows.

In fact they've been the backbone of what's in SP1. With Windows 8, those wider improvements are now available on Windows Update.

That's much faster and a good thing for people upgrading to Windows 8 on an existing PC. But it also makes it more plausible that Microsoft will deliver a new version of Windows far more often than we're used to. We've already argued that we might see Windows shift to yearly versions, and Mary Jo Foley reports sources saying a new release of Windows, codename Blue, could ship in 2013.

Apple sets expectations

Microsoft needs to update Windows RT every year, because that's the expectation Apple has set for tablet operating systems — plus WinRT could certainly do with more features. That policy shift will mean updating Windows 8 to match.

Windows 8
Is the next version of Windows coming sooner than we think?

The updates wouldn't be the full new versions of Windows we're used to today but this a model Microsoft is already adopting for all its other software products that are available in the cloud. Office 365 gets regular updates while bigger architectural improvements come with a new version of Exchange that also incorporates the Office 365 updates.

The Windows equivalent could be cheap annual updates to Windows RT and 8 and then a full-price major new version every three or four years the way we're used to.

That change requires a different mindset from just doing the long-term, big-bang updates to a product, and it means having the development team much more closely involved. For the cloud products such as Office 365, Microsoft creates that involvement by making Exchange coders and architects part of the support team that gets woken up in the middle of the night if there are problems with the service.

Not only are they the best people to work on bug fixes but they're feeling the pain of bad code and getting a very personal incentive to write better software. It also makes sure that bug fixes get integrated into the product properly rather than left as a patch you have to apply manually to a server, or something that the Sustained Engineering team has to rewrite as a proper update.

Tested server image

In a cloud service such as Office 365, machines are updated regularly and if the bug fix doesn't get pushed to production and become part of the tested server image, it's going to get overwritten and the developer will get woken up in the middle of the night again.

There's no direct equivalent for Windows. Perhaps the developers could take a turn on the phone support lines or working with Microsoft IT to support internal Windows users? Certainly, taking the hotfixes developed for the Windows 8 OEMs and turning them into a proper Windows 8 update is excellent practice.

More frequent updates also means a balance between lots of small, useful features and more fundamental improvements in the architecture of a product. Those things take long-term planning rather than just figuring it out as you go along.

Whatever is in Windows 9, it's going to have to be exciting, but the annual updates need to be compelling as well. That's just as important as having the engineering ability to deliver more frequent versions of Windows, but we don't expect to hear about that side of things until well after Windows 8 is on sale.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems

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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14 comments
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  • i'm not gonna lie

    i'm actually a little excited about the windows 8 release. Probably because i'm still running the same windows xp machine that i've had for 6 years that i've upgraded to vista and then 7... it's a beast, but it is really old. I'll probably eventually purchase a new computer and take advantage of the touch screen. However, i have grown quite accustomed to having dual monitors. Do the touch screen capabilities in windows 8 even support dual monitors? or will i have to drag a window half way across and then pick it up on the other screen?
    ukjb
    • dual monitors

      It would be my understanding that even in a dual monitored environment, "metro" will only run on one screen while the desktop mode runs on the other. Since metro and its apps are full screen only, you won't be dragging anything across screens.

      I think you can run desktop on dual monitors in which case I'm not sure how dragging across screens will work
      mike2k
      • I can tell you.

        I'm running Windows 8 on my workstation now, and on two monitors, Windows 8 (at least on the desktop) is a beast. It finally has proper multi-mon support that makes it very hard for me to go back to Windows 7. The Windows taskbar stretches across all bottom monitors, and taskbar icons will follow you to whatever monitor you are working on, no longer forcing you to return to the center monitor to do anything, like you have to now on Windows 7.

        However, Metro apps can only be run on one screen, you cannot have two metro apps open at the same time on separate monitors. It is a limitation issue I do not understand. I only use a handful of Metro apps, but it would be nice to have separate instances open on separate monitors.

        Microsoft, why is Metro so limiting on multi-mon setups? You tout that your employees run more than one monitor, yet impose these limitations.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
        • multi-mon

          i loved multi-mon when it worked in xp. but i havent used it in years. glad to hear that works again. Sucks about metro apps only working on one monitor though. maybe they will address that in one of the yearly upgrades (not having installed the preview, i don't know what im missing but i assume it's not much at this point).
          ukjb
        • The lack of multiple metro/windows store apps on multi-mon problem

          is probably due to the architectural setup used for great battery-life/minimal resource use. They need the OS to notice that there are multiple monitors and plenty of resources, so go ahead and let 6 or more metro apps run at the same time. I currently have 3 monitors and it would be great to have metro email on one monitor, a metro browser on another, and then Visual Studio on the last monitor.
          grayknight
        • Cool

          This is very interesting. With a 2-monitor setup, are you able to run Metro Apps on one monitor and desktop apps / desktop mode on the 2nd monitor?
          Shameer Mulji
          • Yes!

            That is exactly what I am doing with my Samsung 700T tablet connected to my external monitor.

            What's really cool with this setup is that when the desktop is snapped with the Metro app, I can actually use the touch-screen keyboard on the tablet to send keystrokes to the application running on the second monitor. And it works with handwriting recognition too!
            wp7mango
  • Umm

    Okay, the pundits are lauding a patch for an OS that isn't even in the masses yet. And this is supposed to elude to some great future for MS? I'm beginning to wonder how much the rags are being paid to play up Windows 8. I tried the public beta and I gotta tell ya people aren't going to like pulling an app downward to close it. They're going to look for the "X." And they certainly not going to like having to launch the desktop. Windows 8 is Vista. Allowing customers to downgrade was probably the best new announcement from MS about Windows 8.
    jpolk84
    • Like a smartphone

      Just like on a smartphone, the OS should be the one managing memory, not you.
      Jeff Kibuule
    • There's always some sort of patch...

      There's always some sort of patch or upgrade between the release preview and the consumer release. The whole point of the release preview is to test out the bugs for developers and common users. that is the point of the patch/upgrade to fix those issues.
      ukjb
      • It does have dual monitor support

        @jason, windows 8 takes advantage of the dual monitors in a nice way. Even the task bar is extended while working on the desktop and all the hot corners are active on both the monitors.
        Jitendra Singh G
  • Windows 8 GA update is a good start for Windows 9

    A lot of changes coming in Microsoft Windows 8. Its naturally going to be the ground work for whatever comes in Windows 9. A new version every year would be nice, keeps the Windows framework up to date. Can't complain about that.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • It depends

      Yearly upgrades is fantastic for consumers but for enterprises, yearly upgrades could a management headache since they're very conservative in terms of how quickly they prefer upgrading.
      Shameer Mulji
  • From rumours about "Blue" that i seem to recall

    It's another "whole new idea".

    If that's W9, and if W8 is an example of MS's "whole new ideas" - i think i'll stick with W7 until i have No Choice At All ... or i die.

    Which is likely to happen first is open to question.
    fairportfan