Windows 9 Watch

Windows 8's no-name update plan nails OS's coffin shut

Policy of smaller, faster updates also heralds broad changes to Windows in the future, say analysts; puts enterprises even further behind 8-ball

Microsoft will not, contrary to some expectations, put a name to its next Windows 8.1 update, a decision that not only reflects a scaling back of ambition for the reputation-plagued OS but also indicates a different approach to all Windows' releases, analysts said today.

On Tuesday, Microsoft said that future feature updates, whether new tools or improvements to existing parts of Windows 8.1, would be parceled out in smaller chunks.

"Rather than waiting for months and bundling together a bunch of improvements into a larger update as we did for the Windows 8.1 Update, customers can expect that we'll use our already existing monthly update process to deliver more frequent improvements," said Brandon LeBlanc, a Microsoft spokesman who regularly posts to the company's Windows blogs.

Windows 8.1 Update 1, which shipped in April, was a minor upgrade from Windows 8.1 of October 2013; together, the pair were designed to make the original Windows 8 more palatable to traditional desktop and laptop owners who control their desktops with a mouse and keyboard.

But Windows 8.1 Update 1 will not be followed by an Update 2, as many had thought until recently. "Despite rumors and speculation, we are not planning to deliver a Windows 8.1 'Update 2,'" LeBlanc confirmed.

From now on, Microsoft will not even dignify its Windows 8.1 updates with a name, but simply toss them into the Windows Update machinery long used to serve up vulnerability patches on the second Tuesday of each month. Microsoft prefers the less-negative label of "Update Tuesday" for that day, but the rest of the world refers to it as "Patch Tuesday."

LeBlanc hinted that each month would include feature improvements and changes to Windows 8.1, not just the usual mix of security and other bug fixes.

This month's list of changes was short and consisted of minor improvements. The most notable wasn't even on LeBlanc's list: Newer versions of Internet Explorer (IE) will be refreshed next week to block outdated Java plug-ins.

The change from larger, named updates to more frequently anonymous improvements is remarkable for Microsoft.

As LeBlanc alluded, the Redmond, Wash. company has long waited until it had a substantial number of new features or improvements before releasing an update. That was especially true before Windows 8, when Microsoft was on a three-year release cycle for Windows and when it rarely, if ever, added features between iterations. The pace picked up after Windows 8's launch -- to the consternation of enterprises -- with Windows 8.1 out a year after the original, followed by Update 1 less than six months later.

Instead, Microsoft will, at least for the limited time between now and the debut of Windows 8's successor -- code named "Threshold" by company watchers and presumed to be named "Windows 9" in the end -- mimic the kind of development and release process practiced by browser makers like Mozilla and Google.

Firefox and Chrome use a rapid-release, schedule-drive approach, often described with an analogy to trains, where features ready to release board the current "train," and those that are not finished simply wait for the next scheduled release to leave the station. Microsoft already uses that method for its security fixes, with certain exceptions -- widely-exploited vulnerabilities are sometimes patched "out-of-cycle" -- and the new Windows process sounds similar.

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