Microsoft has said goodbye to the big bang approach and that's just fine

Microsoft has embraced continuous development and regular releases instead of keeping users waiting for three years.

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Satya Nadella's keynote at the annual Ignite conference was about how customers are using its services and platforms -- like Shell using Azure Sphere secure IoT devices and custom image recognition to spot customers smoking at petrol pumps.

He talked about how Microsoft had spotted 56 small businesses in one city in Tennessee coming under attack. And he brought the CEOs of SAP and Adobe on stage to help declare what he's far too urbane to call a war on Salesforce with the combination of SAP, Dynamics and Adobe Marketing Cloud, leaving it to SAP CEO Bill McDermott to talk about "moving from old school CRM to a true customer experience". But he didn't talk about product launches.

The three technical keynotes that followed and the rest of the week of technical sessions were crammed with announcements of new features and new services and new product releases from Azure AD passwordless authentication to Windows Server 2019, 3D support in Visio and the Virtual Desktop service on Azure. There were so many new features and services and releases that the Microsoft communications team joked about printing them out to fill an entire book. Whatever Microsoft products you use, there's something new that you'll probably find useful. But is any of it the One Thing that everyone at Ignite was talking about?

No, and that's a good thing.

The new features in Windows Server 2019 had been announced already and available for test for the last few months. The Managed Desktops and Virtual Desktop services were new and will be very useful to enterprises, as will the unified console in Microsoft 365 that combines some 24 separate existing admin interfaces, but they're about simplifying how organizations deal with Windows. Combining the three separate Threat Protection services for Windows, Office and Azure into one system also simplifies things for admin teams and frankly makes more sense than separate dashboards, because attackers don't confine their attacks to one part of your infrastructure.

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FPGAs in Azure Data Box to apply machine learning to your data or a rugged Azure Stack you can throw in the back of an SUV give enterprises more options for using their data on their own hardware as well as in the cloud, but we first heard about those at Build.

Some of the most interesting new services are Microsoft productising tools that it's used internally for a long time, like the new Azure Data Explorer. This is a command line query tool for exploring large data sets that's like a mini Power BI for admins, automatically presenting results as tables or charts to suit the data. It was called Kusto inside Microsoft and visiting the Microsoft campus the week after Ignite, we saw posters advertising Kusto training to get employees up to speed.

The fact that nearly half of all enterprise Windows PCs are running Windows 10 already, with an upgrade happening every 0.68 seconds and the 50 percent mark due before the end of October, is a sign that businesses are becoming more receptive to the idea of Windows and all the other Microsoft products becoming services that get frequent, regular updates and new features rather than game-changing 'big bang' releases every three to five years.

There are some things that change more slowly, like the infrastructure servers that are still on Windows Server 2008 or older, that urgently need updating to get better security (or moving into the cloud, where they will at least be better protected). Not everyone is going to move at the same speed as Microsoft's regular, monthly or six-monthly releases.

But the fact that Ignite didn't have just one exciting thing you can point at is a sign that Microsoft itself has moved on from the three-to-five year cycles and got into the swing of continual improvements and additions. Yes, you have to pay a subscription for those; the best version of Office has only been available with a subscription to Office 365 for the last two years anyway and the latest AI-powered features are only continuing that trend.

The fact that there wasn't a single most exciting, important thing to point at as the ignite headline announcement might actually be the most important thing about Ignite; Microsoft isn't waiting for a big show or a new financial year to release useful products -- customers can have them as soon as they're ready to start using them. That's the software as a service model -- for everything.


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