Windows' new normal shows software-as-a-service ambitions

But the more Microsoft pushes change, the more enterprises will resist

Microsoft's new updating "normal" for Windows -- a faster-paced tempo that demands customers apply releases within weeks -- is a first step in moving the operating system to a services-style model, an analyst argued today.

But that strategy is going to face resistance from enterprises for years as they struggle to adapt to the new Microsoft and the changes in how it conducts business.

"Microsoft's thinking of Windows as more of a service than using a traditional updating mechanism," said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. "That's what they'd like us to get to, thinking of Windows as a service."

With all that implies, added Miller, ranging from frequent updates that include security and non-security fixes, new features and even user interface (UI) changes, to no-questions-asked acceptance of those updates.

"Microsoft would certainly like it to be and it will try to make it so," said Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner, in an email reply to whether the policies Microsoft rolled out with Windows 8.1 Update and Windows Server 2012 R2 Update were its new normal.

Miller and Silver were referring to the two updates of last week, and Microsoft's initial demand that customers apply them within five weeks or be cut off from all future updates, including monthly security patches. Yesterday, Microsoft extended the deadline for businesses to Aug. 12, but left the May 13 deployment date untouched for consumers.

Even with the extension, Microsoft is forcing commercial customers to deploy those updates in one-sixth of the time it had demanded in the past, when it gave users 24 months -- or slightly longer -- to apply the major updates it had dubbed "service packs."

The problem, as enterprises see it, is that the accelerated pace gives them little time to run the deployment processes they've honed for decades. With those processes, each iteration of an operating system is thoroughly tested to insure it doesn't break existing applications or workflows, then rolled out to a subset of the company's client devices and servers for additional real-world evaluation before finally being re-imaged on all systems to create a homogeneous environment that's easier to support.

"Yes, it does create a problem when business are buying desktops or deploying tablets and trying to have a standard to set to," said Miller. "It's hard to do that when the wheels are constantly in motion and the pieces on the board are always moving."

Microsoft has repeatedly argued that the faster pace -- not just of updates but the limited-time mandates to deploy them -- stemmed from "customer feedback," implying that customers are driving the cadence. "More than ever, these updates are driven by customer feedback and the need to refine and innovate to meet their growing needs," Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc wrote in a Wednesday blog.

The reality is more complicated. Microsoft might not have had to issue Windows 8.1 Update, or perhaps even Windows 8.1, if it had paid attention to critics' warnings that Windows 8 -- particularly its emphasis on touch and de-emphasis of the traditional desktop -- was too radical a redesign for users to swallow.

And Miller believed there was more at play behind the scenes, especially Microsoft's desire to shift Windows to a software-as-a-service model for updating, if not for revenue.

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