Windows 'Threshold' and cadence: How fast is too fast?

Windows 'Threshold' and cadence: How fast is too fast?

Summary: With an enterprise technical preview coming in a few weeks, and an ARM-based test version due early next year, the next version of Windows is approaching rapidly.


With Microsoft expected to make available a public technical preview of Windows Threshold around late September or early October, it's a good time to revisit the thorny cadence question.

For individual consumers, especially power users, Microsoft can't release new versions of Windows quick enough. But for many IT pros, a new version of Windows every year is too fast for them to test and update to their liking.

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The rumor mill says a public preview of the next big Windows release will appear this fall. But don't get fixated by features. This release isn't a "big bang" but is actually just the starting gun for the next stage in a very long race.

Microsoft is believed to be trying to change the way users of all stripes think about "new releases" and updates starting with Threshold.

As I blogged previously, tipsters claim Microsoft will make monthly updates a mandatory part of participation in the upcoming Threshold technical preview. That preview, by the way, is aimed at enterprise users, according to sources of both mine and Neowin's. It's expected to show users some of what's new in the desktop experience and be limited to running on Intel-based PCs/devices.

There will be a separate preview of Threshold running on ARM processors, too. My sources are saying the current target date for that preview is January or February 2015. As the ARM-based version of Threshold -- which should run on both Windows Phones and tablets -- isn't expected to include the Windows desktop, the focus will be on changes Microsoft is making to the Metro-Style Start screen environment.

Windows Threshold, which is widely expected to make its debut as "Windows 9," is expected to be released in the spring of 2015, I continue to hear. It's after that point that the cadence will really start to matter.

After Microsoft releases Threshold, sources say, the operating systems group is expected to go the route of Azure and Office 365 by releasing regular, incremental updates to Windows client and Windows Phone on a regular schedule, rather than bigger updates every year or two. (I am not sure right now what the game plan is for Windows Server, but as Server and Client are developed in tandem, I'd guess Server will be on this schedule, as well.)

These regular updates will include fixes as well as new features, from what I've heard. So instead of delivering Windows 10, Windows 11, Windows 12, Microsoft's focus will be on updating Threshold.

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This will be a big change for the company that not so long ago charged OEMs and users  substantial fees for each new operating system release. But change already started with Microsoft making available its operating systems for "zero dollars" to Windows Phone and tablet makers with devices under nine inches.

The next phase of change could get really interesting. Does Microsoft go the subscription route with its updates and patches, as my colleague Larry Dignan is assuming? Or does Microsoft make these patches and updates free in the hope of keeping users on its platforms and hope to offset the cost by attracting users to subscribe to its other software and services? I've heard from my sources that Microsoft might go so far as to make Windows Threshold free to Windows 7 and Windows 8.X users to try to get the majority of its Windows users on the most up-to-date release. 

Brad Sams at recently reported that recent builds of of the Threshold technical preview include a button in Windows Update that will allow users to move more quickly and seamlessly to the latest updated version of the operating system. While I'm sure there are lots of customers who'd love this, I foresee problems with IT departments who don't want users moving to untried and untested new bits with the click of a button.

Given the operating systems group's increasing focus on responding to what business users want, I'd be surprised if all users would have this kind of one-button update capability turned on in the final Windows Threshold release. I'm thinking there would have to be options for those who want all the latest bits all the time vs. those who don't. Terry Myerson, head of Microsoft's operating systems group, has made it clear the team realizes different users have different release-cadence tolerances. How Microsoft brings this realization to reality should be interesting....

Topics: Windows, Cloud, IT Priorities, Microsoft, IT Policies


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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  • Another thought ...

    "For individual consumers, especially power users, Microsoft can't release new versions of Windows quick enough."
    In my opinion, only if what is released adds value to the overall computing landscape and makes the computing experience better.
    • A BIG Amen to that!

      Vista came to be because Microsoft wanted OS revenue.
      Windows 7 came to be because Vista was such a disaster.
      Windows 8 came to be because Microsoft wanted a piece of the mobile space.
      Windows 9 is coming because Windows 8 is such a disaster.

      If I didn't know any better, I'd swear Microsoft doesn't have a clear direction, and they're shooting buckshot in the hope that they'll get a hit. It even appears that revenue might be a bigger interest (perhaps the primary one, or only one?) as opposed to creating something truly noteworthy.

      Here are some ideas:

      (1) Start with the Windows 7 user interface, and keep what works well (most of it)

      (2) Fix those stupid niggly things, like not remembering open folder locations and the Start menu that always resorts itself alphabetically, even though you've told it not to.

      (3) With each new release, make enhancements to the UI that add value to the the user's experience. Aim to delight your users!

      (4) Build on that solid UI with incremental changes rather than scrapping virtually everything and starting over every few years. This will make the learning curve short and easy when you issue a new release, and that will enhance the adoption rate.

      (5) Dump the "change for the sake of change", "It's new! Buy it!" mentality. Shift to a customer focus and ask yourself: how do I make my users' lives easier, and how can I give them more value.
      • What does the User Want ?

        Steve Mak makes a lot of very good points. I'd like to finesse a few:

        1. Separate the OS GUI from the OS. In my opinion there are different user-classes - principally desktop, and tablet or phone, and the way the selection of programs is achieved can appropriately vary. Pushing Win7's interface onto a phone or the Metro interface onto a 25" screen are both inappropriate!

        2. As Steve says, hone the GUI. In fact, hone both Trad and Metro interfaces. My pet peeves in the Trad interface are the re-positioning of the folder tree in Windows Explorer when you select a folder and the addition of items (like the charms bar) with no obvious access method.

        3. Following from #2, MS needs to look back at IBM's original spec for a GUI - or even Xerox', for that matter - the emphasis should be on making everything obvious. The Operating System should be so unobtrusive that you use almost zero brainpower using it - it's just a conveyance to bring you your application; you shouldn't need to think to use it!

        4. Follow Canonical's lead and offer a small but significant update every 6 or 9 months. Every 3 years bring out a Long Term Support version, where certain guarantees are made, both to users and also to developers. That way you don't get yourself into the WinXP-to-Win8 jump situation because the small increments have allowed you to test and adjust your trajectory.

        5. Make Windows a subscription item. Right now I pay $130 for a copy of Win 7. Hopefully that'll last me five years. If I paid $25 per year and I could then get OS and other upgrades on demand without having to jump to a whole new OS then I'd do that!

        • Be careful about subscriptions

          The problem with subscriptions is that they can end-up holding you hostage. You pay for your hardware, you pay for your games, you should be able to use them without paying an additional monthly fee or storage access from a mysterious "cloud" or server somewhere. Putting your data into someone else-s hands to control and then giving them money for that 'privilege' is just stupid, unsafe and gives these companies more control over its customers.
          • Security As Important as UI

            Vista and Windows 8 are dramatic changes in how apps work, how they are protected from each other, and how the operating system is protected from them. When these changes occur then a lot of apps stop working and become obsolete.

            Vista forced a change. Windows 7 added backward compatibility. I feel that if the backward compatibly was there to begin with things would have remained the same and security would suffer. Vista got things started.

            I think much of the same thing is happening with Windows 8 and 9.

            On a personal note I never saw much difference between the Vista UI and Windows 7. Also, I like the new Windows 8.1 Update UI better than 7.
          • Really?

            Why so many people use Yahoo Mail, Gmail and HotMail/ then?

            The Cloud is secure. It is the way of the future.
        • "Separate the OS GUI from the OS."

          You hit the nail on the head there. I started using Windows 8 on a desktop - hated it at first. It was not until I tried it on a Surface that I finally got it. Unfortunately most of my time is on my what an idea. Same OS but pick which UI you want.

          In the end I used a couple of cheap add on products - mainly Start-8 that make my desktop Windows 8.1U1 now look, feel, and work pretty much identically to Windows 7. I basically never look at anything Metro on the desktop machine. Once configured the way I want, 8.1 is fast - very fast, boots quickly, doesn't crash and generally just works great. The only bad part is that I needed third party add-ons to make it work the way I wanted, but start 8 is only $5.00
      • Great Ideas!

        I would also recommend they get rid of the Ribbon style and revert back to the previous look in Paint and other app windows. And give the next media player the old WMP 11 black glass interface and tool docking feature, or almost no one will use it. I loved the docking feature they stripped away in version 12. Customize-ability, customize ability....cannot say it enough is what users want! NOT a Forced once size fits all universal platform for all devices! Or at least offer a feature so you can decide which GUI you want!
        • Well...

          ...why don't you go back to using XP, then? I like that Microsoft is becoming/has become forward thinking. I've thoroughly enjoyed and have been completely enthralled with Windows 8/8.1. If Microsoft were to do what you're proposing then we would have XP all over again, and personally I don't want that. Give the ribbon interface a chance, you'll find it to be much more intuitive than you think. Granted you could do it in 7, but I love the Start Screen search features in 8.1. You can use it to search for anything, from files on your computer to items on the internet. I wish a lot of users would stop knocking Windows 8/8.1 before trying it, or even stop giving it an unfair chance. Use it for more than a day, I would just about guarantee that you'll love it. If you don't, install Classic Shell! That's what it's there for!
          • Give ribbons a chance? OMG

            If you actually tried to make a living preparing spreadsheets and writing reports, you'd know what you're saying! Of course a secure, updated XP would have been best for us poor users - just no profit motive for MS to do that! I'm still trying to focus on the 1-pixel-wide cursor, or I'd say more!!!
          • Yes, give ribbons a chance.

            I do make a living preparing spreadsheets and writing reports, so I know exactly what I'm saying. Working in the tech industry you have to go into things with an open mind. Stomping your feet and whining until you get your own way is just childish and immature, and if you aren't suited to adapting to something as simple as a piece of software, then why are you working in the position you're working in? Being bullheaded will get you nowhere. We have had ribbons now for 7 years. If you aren't used to it now or can't seem to figure it out then you, my friend, may have a problem. It might be time for you to switch to LibreOffice.
          • Ribbons?

            The problem is not that users are against new ideas or concepts that are designed to enhance their experiences.

            The problem is that old ideas that had worked for years, and which users had got accustomed to and had invested heavily in (in terms of time, effort and money), are being discarded without the least bit of consultation with end-users, who feel that they are being forced into a corner of either re-learning everything or face being labelled as backward / non-progressive / stupid, or ones who have no place within the industry...

            What I need is not an operating system that loads in 8 seconds but takes 20 steps to carry out a task that was done in one...

            I don't want an OS that argues with me, and questions my choices - I already have a wife... The OS needs to sit in the background, and unobtrusively carry out the tasks assigned to it quietly and in the most efficient manner

            I want an OS that is fast and compatible with my old applications, which is the only reason that I'm still using Windows...

            I have used Windows 8, and I still don't know why nobody @ Microsoft has been summarily executed for this debacle.

            Regardless, myself and many others have decided that enough-is-enough and have moved over to FREE SOFTWARE, things like Libre/Open-Office, with the next big move being from Windows to Linux platform, unless ReacOS gets there first...
          • Ribbon was the start of the decline

            I couldn't agree more. The ribbon was the start of the 'form instead of function' movement that allowed us to get into this situation. If the resources wasted on these silly UI tricks had been applied instead to the refinement of apps and the OS, Microsoft would be better off.

            Cortana is yet another example of wasted resources. In fact, Cortana is the last straw for me; I'll soon trade my Nokia for an Android phone because of her.
          • Ribbons

            I fear that you have not given the Ribbon UI even the slightest chance. I was in your camp until I accidentally happened upon a feature that to my limited knowledge, was not documented in the initial docs.

            Hover the mouse-cursor anywhere on the Ribbon. Next, scroll the Wheel. Result: you cycle through the various Ribbons and their children 100 times more quickly than the most adept mouse-user + old-style menu system could ever equal.

            As to why this feature was not loudly trumpeted in the MS docs, I cannot say. What I do know is that once I discovered this, my initial condemnations of the Ribbon evaporated completely.

            I design apps for lots of Office users in lots of companies, of varying sizes, from massive investment-funds, to various departments and ministries within the Canadian government (fed/prov/city), to one-principal engineering firms. Most of them use MS Office (much to my lament -- I keep trying to point out the cost-savings of a move to Linux+OpenOffice-and-or-OfficeLibre, but few have opted for this alternative, and so I keep developing Apps for Office, not because I want to but because the landlord etc. do not appreciate the promises of a conversion to Linux.)

            All that (the OS wars etc.), once I discovered the Wheel-trick with the Ribbon, I was able to teach people who initially hated the new UI to realize how much more powerful and easy it made the most common tasks. And from there, I explored further, and learned how to create custom Ribbons for discipline-specific apps (legal, governmental, accounting, etc.).

            At the end of the day, I am totally sold on the Ribbon technology. Given its customizability, it far outstrips the capabilities offered in previous versions. All it really takes, aside from the aforementioned trick of hovering the mouse over the Ribbon and then using the wheel to rapidly scroll through the various sub-ribbons, is rethinking your app to exploit these virtues. IME, at the end of the day, you will end up with a vastly superior app than was previously possible.

            Finally, I don't do all that much development in Access any more; since I discovered Alpha Anywhere, pretty much the only reason I look back is for maintenance on previous apps. All new projects take place in Alpha Anywhere, which is about 100 times more powerful than Access.

          • Ribbons are OK... in a program that needs them...

            But, when the ribbon is in a program that it has no reason to be there, all it does is take up more screen space and take tools that where available all at once and puts it on multiple tabs.

            Just answer me this one: Why did Microsoft think it was a good idea to move just the zoom function to another tab in MS Paint? There is no reason for it.

            How about Wordpad? I know that they want to have a unified UI, but it is just getting annoying. At least they haven't found a reason to do it to Notepad...

            My point is, the ribbon can be a powerful tool in applications that can use it to its full potential. Using it in simple programs is, at best, a joke.
          • My point exactly

            You've made my point: ... You had to 'stumble' upon an undocumented feature of a far too cumbersome UI. And if you don't have a wheel on your mouse? This Ugly mess started soon after Microsoft move some development efforts off shore. I think users whose native language is picto-graphic in nature may appreciate these icon menu systems, but far to many long time users of Word were befuddled for months. Many who are forced use Word at work, still miss the simple text menu systems of earlier versions.
          • Good grief

            So the crap UI is all some unknown foreigner's fault?

            Not sure there are any "picto-graphic" languages. Writing systems perhaps, but it's difficult to speak in pictures.
            Fred Fredrickson
      • Most of Windows 8 was Sinofsky

        Sure Balmer let an ego maniac who wanted to be like another ego maniac (steve jobs in case you didn't know where I was going with that) be the head of the Windows team, but hindsight is only 20/20.

        You could say they should have let the Windows Phone team take the lead of Windows 8, but then they were working on Windows phone 7 which was based on Windows CE and not NT. There is a lot of what if's and they should have's, but they didn't and now they're trying to fix their mistakes.
      • (random reply)

        "Start with the Windows 7 user interface, and keep what works well (most of it)"
        All of it except the awful dock-like taskbar please, that thing is terrible. Not a big deal since I can just install 7TaskbarTweaker but I shouldn't have to. I wouldn't mind the Windows Explorer ribbon though, it's pretty good on a big screen (but a space waster on small laptop screens)
    • I agree completely!

      Change for the sake of change is pointless and creates potential problems with established workflows. In my mind, Metro should never have appeared on the desktop for this precise reason. Microsoft spent decades perfecting the desktop UI and then trashed it to accommodate tablets and phones. I always upgraded quickly to every version of Windows prior to 8. This was because there were always usability improvements in each version. That is no longer true. I still use Windows 7 on my desktops because installing Win 8.x would cripple my long established workflow. Needless to say, I've been watching the plans for Win 9 pretty closely. I'm crossing my fingers that they learned from their mistakes. Metro doesn't belong on the desktop. It belongs on touch devices.