It wasn't that long ago that then-Windows chief Steven Sinofsky stated that three years was a good time frame for new Windows releases. But since his ouster, Microsoft has put the pedal to the metal, and the new Windows sheriff has apparently thrown the old playbook in the trash, where it belongs. Now Microsoft will ship Windows updates whenever it can, and the faster the better.
The ramifications of this change are as yet unknown. But after watching the firm deliver Windows 8.1 in just a year and then Windows 8.1 Update 1 in just four months, I'm starting to believe.
I joked with Joe Belfiore at Build earlier this month that, given this schedule acceleration, I expected to see Microsoft deliver the next Windows update before my plane landed back in Boston. But after a chat with Terry Myerson, who now oversees all client OS development at Microsoft—including Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox—I'm no longer joking. These guys are serious.
As recently as January, Microsoft planned to deliver the next major Windows release, most likely called Windows 9, in April 2015. The firm would reveal these plans at Build, I was told, where it would discuss its vision for the future of Windows. (You can read more about these suddenly slow-seeming plans in "Threshold" to be Called Windows 9, Ship in April 2015.) Threshold, I revealed previously, would include a new Start menu for desktop and traditional PC users, and would allow users to run Metro apps in floating windows on the desktop.
What Mr. Myerson announced, instead, was that Microsoft would provide a new Start menu for desktop and traditional PC users, and would allow users to run Metro apps in floating windows on the desktop, in a coming update to Windows 8.1. He confirmed to me—as did Joe B. and Microsoft PR—that this language was deliberately chosen to be both cagey and vague. The reason? I believe that Microsoft doesn't want to commit to releasing these and other updates at a specific time and in a specific update. And not because they might be late. Because they might be early.
That is, Windows 9—and April 2015—are simply too far away. I left Build feeling that Microsoft was already speeding up its schedule, and doing so by decoupling these new features from major product revisions. Instead, they will deliver them as soon as they can.
According to a new report by Mary Jo Foley, possibly as soon as August. That timing is interesting, as it's just four months after the release of Update 1. (Recall that Update 1 also came together in about four months.) It's not yet clear exactly what might be in this second update—Update 2? Windows 8.2? No one is quite sure yet, which makes sense since things are ramping up so suddenly—but it could include that new Start menu. Or the floating Metro windows. Or both. Or some other stuff.
In the old days, Windows proceeded very mechanically and regularly, at least when unforeseen hurdles like Trustworthy Computing and Longhorn weren't mussing up the works. Three years was indeed a good time frame for major releases. Service Packs and cumulative updates—and sometimes even Feature Packs—could fill the interim.
It's not the old days anymore. In this age of cloud computing and the "evergreening" of the services we use every day, Windows needs to be quicker. And Terry Myerson is making it happen. The trains aren't running on time. They're arriving ever earlier.
I don't just approve of this change, I applaud it. And while I always believed it was reasonable for Windows to speed up, I had sort of figured that the once-a-year cadence we saw with Windows 8.1 would be the new normal. Nope. Not even close.