Windows 8.1 Update 2 is arriving in August as expected. But it has likewise been deemphasized as expected so that the originally broader changes can be rolled into the next major version of Windows. Now the update will simply be communicated as the "August update" to the OS and it will include no major new features at all. Exciting!
News of the pending arrival of Windows 8.1 Update 2 comes courtesy of my Windows Weekly co-host Mary Jo Foley, who has been particularly up-to-date on this release. Which is hard work, actually, since it's changed a lot over time.
You may recall that when Terry Myerson took over OS development across all of Microsoft's major platforms—Windows client, Server, Phone, Xbox—he changed Windows client over to the update cadence that was previously used (and still is) by Windows Phone. So instead of service packs, Windows releases will be updated more frequently by Updates (with a capital U) or what's still called General Distribution Releases (GDRs) internally. These releases are usually cumulative, so that if you miss an Update 1 release, you can get all the Update 1 stuff, plus whatever else is new, in Update 2.
But then some marketing numbnut got their hands on it and decided that the name "Update 1" was perhaps too connotative. After all, the name Update 1 suggests that there will be more updates, like Update 2 and Update 3. And the feeling was that maybe Microsoft shouldn't be implicitly admitting to such things.
So Windows 8.1 Update 1 went out the door with the moniker "Windows 8.1 Update" (no 1). And whoever OKs this stuff was so pleased with the blandness of it all that Microsoft is actually marketing Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1—which follows a proud tradition of GDRs and Updates (with a capital U)—as Windows Phone 8.1 Update just so that they can align with big Windows. Nice job, guys.
Anyway, neither Windows 8.1 Update (1) nor Windows Phone 8.1 Update (1) is the end of the line. That is, there will be more Updates (with a capital U). But things on the big Windows side, well, they've gotten a lot messier as this year as progressed. And a lot less interesting if you care about the secret sauce that makes Windows special.
Here's the short version. Originally, Microsoft planned to release whatever features across Windows Update 1, Update 2 and Update 3. And then, in Threshold—or Windows 9, as we might think of it—it would release major updates including a new Start menu to shut up the Windows XP/7 whiners and the ability to run Modern mobile apps in floating windows on the desktop.
But right around the time they finished Windows 8.1 Update 1, the core OS team decided that maybe it should more closely adhere to Microsoft's "rapid release" dogma, and that it might be able to roll out some of Threshold's features sooner. So Terry Myerson hinted at Build 2014 (in April) that some features, like that new Start menu, could come earlier, in "an update to Windows 8.1." Our sources have indicated that the plan, at least briefly, was to ship that feature in Update 2. (But not the Modern floating apps windows.)
Such a thing would have really delighted many users, so I understand Microsoft's desire to make that happen. But for a variety of reasons—the immaturity of the new Start menu code and/or the Modern platform changes that it would require—it quickly became clear that the firm could not deliver the new Start menu in August (which was always the timing for Update 2). And for a variety of other reasons, things kind of aligned that it made sense to hold off on this feature until Threshold/Windows 9. So much for rapid release, and abandoning all that version number stuff.
(Key among the reasons for the strategy shift is that the Windows 8 name is of course tainted. So by aligning all of its best new features around a new Windows version, Microsoft can get past this Vista-like mistake and move on more easily.)
So here's Windows 8.1. It's been updated to Update 1, which Microsoft decided to call Update (no 1). The long-planned Update 2 has been stripped of its only interesting features and is now really not that interesting at all anymore. And the core OS group is recalibrating around Threshold/Windows 9 anyway, since, well, Windows 8. You know. No one likes it, and the name is tainted.
So Update 2 will ship as planned. Except that nothing but the August release date is as planned. Now, Update 2 will be called, blandly, the "August update." (And seriously. August? How about August 2014? Too precise?) Unlike all of the previous Windows Phone updates, and against the general plan for GDRs, Update 2/August update will not even be cumulative, it's just a standalone update. And it won't even be mandatory. Users will need to choose to install it.
Sounds exciting, no? Surely there's something new in this release.
As Foley notes, there will be some "minor design changes," though we don't have any specifics.
And that's it.
If you think Update 2 is a train wreck, wait until you hear about Update 3. That long-time planned third update to Windows 8.1 has been cancelled and will no longer ship in late 2014 as expected. Instead, and as noted, the core OS team has changed everything to focus on Threshold.
Sounds like Windows 9 is going to be huge. And that the Windows 8 era, fraught with turmoil as it is, is coming to a close.