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

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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.

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 Neowin.net 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....

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