Microsoft signals a slower Windows 10 upgrade tempo

Expect two, not three, upgrades every 12 months, says analyst, until the company learns the WaaS ropes

Microsoft has taken to referring to Windows 10's upgrade tempo as slower than it once did, hinting that the company may not sustain an aggressive three-times-a-year cadence.

In public documentation, Microsoft has recently used an upgrade frequency of two-to-three-times annually, a departure from before, when it consistently cited a three-times-each-year release schedule.

"With Windows 10, a new model is being adopted," Microsoft stated in a just-revised technical overview of the OS's servicing options. "Instead of new features being added only in new releases that happen every few years, the goal is to provide new features two to three times per year, continually providing new capabilities while maintaining a high level of hardware and application compatibility [emphasis added]."

That tempo, which would roughly translate to an upgrade every six months on the slowest end, and on the fastest pace every four months, was different than what Microsoft talked about before the July launch of Windows 10. During that stretch, the company regularly used the faster of the two cadences -- three times annually, or about every four months -- to describe the frequency of the feature upgrades it planned to deliver.

In a webinar Microsoft hosted for its partners in April, for example, a senior product marketing manager said that upgrades to the "Current Branch" (CB), the upgrade track for consumers and many small businesses, would appear at four-month intervals. Published documentation, in fact, continues to use that tempo in examples, although in some cases Microsoft includes a caveat that the intervals are for illustrative purposes only.

Microsoft had implied earlier -- in both documentation and the release rhythm for the "Current Branch for Business" (CBB) track -- that the every-four-month tempo was to be the standard, which would have meant upgrades in late November, then late March and late July 2016.

More recently, the company's stressed that the calendar won't drive upgrades. "Although Microsoft is currently planning to release approximately two to three feature upgrades per year, the actual frequency and timing of releases will vary," the firm said in another detailed description of Windows 10's release and maintenance strategy.

A slower upgrade tempo would not surprise Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans.

"It's one thing to say three times a year, but it's another to actually do it," Kleynhans said in a Friday interview, adding that it would be normal for Microsoft's engineers to wonder whether they could maintain a rapid release pace when they've worked years within a more measured schedule. "They need to get experience [with the faster pace]."

Windows 10's November upgrade, designated 1511 within the operating system, appeared just three-and-a-half months after the initial launch edition. But in keeping with the "Windows as a service" (WaaS) model, Microsoft has not, and probably won't, circle a date on 2016's calendar for the next upgrade. Long-time Windows watchers, including ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, have tapped mid-2016 for 1511's follow-up. If that ends up accurate, it would represent an interval of seven or eight months.

"Realistically, for the first couple of years, we'll probably see two upgrades each year," Kleynhans said. "Microsoft will toy with and tweak their processes for the first couple of years, but I think they will get to three [a year] at some point."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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