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

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LeBlanc characterized the change as a way to "respond more quickly to customer and partner feedback" and to "refine and improve Windows 8.1 in a more nimble way." But analysts thought there was more to the story.

With Threshold/Windows 9 approaching, Redmond is putting Windows 8 on a back burner, reducing the number and significance of improvements and new feature introductions to the latter.

"Absolutely," said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, when asked whether Microsoft had shifted resources to the new Windows at the expense of the older edition. "You can see that in the things that aren't releasing for Windows 8.1."

By that, Miller meant the features -- notably a revamped Start menu that Microsoft showed off earlier this year -- once thought to reach Windows 8.1, but that have now been postponed to Threshold. Microsoft is saving those features for the next Windows as a way to differentiate the new from the old, and put the Windows 8 flop in its rearview mirror.

Not naming further Windows 8.1 updates could be interpreted as another way Microsoft is cutting Windows 8 loose by pushing the widely-panned OS into the PR and news background.

Miller and others also tried to read the tea leaves in LeBlanc's blog, and speculated that the feature dribble tactic may be the new black, and that major upgrades, both in the quantity of new content and how they're distributed, may also change as a result.

If extended throughout Windows' development and release cadence, a constant, train-style process would by its nature downplay major editions even more than has been the case since Windows 8's launch. That, in turn, would bolster the rumors that Microsoft will either give away Threshold to current Windows 8, perhaps even Windows 7 users, or heavily discount upgrades if, as many anticipate, it will be less an overhaul and more a mid-sized tweak that continues the backpedaling from Windows 8's touch-first focus.

But the experts disagreed on what Microsoft's frequent-update message means. Does it mean Microsoft has abandoned the controversial concept of mandating designated updates if customers want to keep getting patches, as it did when it set Windows 8.1 Update 1 as a "new servicing baseline," then gave enterprises just four months to deploy Update 1?

"I don't know for sure," said Miller. "But I read LeBlanc's blog as saying, 'We sure aren't going to do what we did last time,'" referring to the Update 1 requirement.

Corporate customers running Windows 8.1 -- admittedly a small group -- must have Update 1 in place by Tuesday or they will not receive this month's patches.

"The most significant thing is that while this change delivers some new features, it is not being forced upon enterprises in short order as the [Windows 8.1 Update 1] earlier this year was," said Miller.

Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner, saw it differently.

"Microsoft wants to make Windows work like a phone [OS]," said Silver of the frequent and free upgrades for mobile operating systems like Apple's iOS. "They're not there yet. Certainly, they're hoping that enterprises can absorb [frequent updates] more easily."

But Silver believes that Microsoft will continue to set baselines like Windows 8.1 Update 1 that must be deployed to continue receiving security updates. Optional updates won't cut it. "Microsoft needs to have known configurations out there," said Silver. "It's hard to do that with optional updates, so at some point they'll have to push a requirement."

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