Windows as a service: What's Threshold got to do with it?

Microsoft's next major Windows release is rumored to have some connection to a 'Windows as a Service' concept. But WaaS may not be what many think.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

As we inch closer to the first big reveal of Windows Threshold -- expected on September 30 in the form of an enterprise technical preview -- rumors are flying about the role of "the cloud" in the coming Windows release.

No doubt there will be OneDrive integration with Windows Threshold, the next version of Windows which (in spite of a Microsoft China "leak") may or may not be called Windows 9 in the spring of 2015 when it's targeted to be available. There will be Skype integration. I wouldn't be surprised to see Outlook.com figuring in there somehow. And there has been talk about some kind of new backup capabilities, likely coming from the Azure side of the house... 

But there have also been not-so-secret mentions of something called "Windows as a Service" that Microsoft watchers are linking to Windows Threshold. I've seen a few speculate that this means there is something in the works akin to an Office 365-type subscription pricing/service for Threshold.

As I've blogged before, I've heard from my contacts that there is no such thing as "Windows 365" -- beyond a school project by that name created by some masters students in the Netherlands.

That said, maybe Microsoft officials will decide at some point to turn Windows updates and patches into a paid service, but so far, that decision hasn't been made, I continue to hear from my contacts. Microsoft typically decides on pricing, SKUs and packaging toward the end of a Windows development cycle, so it's not surprising there's not yet final word as to how and how much Microsoft plans to charge Windows 7/8 users for Windows Threshold (if anything) and subsequent updates to it.

From what I'm hearing, Windows as a Service, or WaaS, is about how Microsoft plans to deliver updates and new features to users, but more from an internal-facing perspective. Starting with Threshold, Microsoft plans to "flight" new features with different subsets of customers, my sources say, so that the operating systems group can determine which changes are well-received and which aren't. Other cloud-centric teams at Microsoft, like Bing, Azure and Yammer, already do this kind of testing and continuous deployment. It's connected to Microsoft's increasing push to use telemetry data and direct feedback to tweak products on the fly.

I'd originally heard from my sources that the coming Threshold tech preview would require users to opt into all monthly updates to Threshold. But now I am hearing the monthly updates will be optional. Those who do opt in will get updates, as well as builds with features that work differently depending on the user. Some subsets of users might get a new feature; others may not. Microsoft will be gathering this "flighting" data to compare differently configured versions of the OS on different devices. Ultimately, the idea is the best configuration will win.

One last point worth noting here: Just because Microsoft is using this kind of flighting/deployment approach in the preview/test phase of Threshold doesn't mean it will continue to do so once the product ships. Microsoft has a diverse set of customers, including many in the enterprise who may not be ready, willing or able to be on the latest versions of the bits as soon as they're pushed out.

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