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"Threshold" will be the start of a more rapid update pace than enterprise users are accustomed to

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) CEO Satya Nadella is rethinking one of the software industry's most auburn firms, by building an operating system business model for the age of cloud computing.  According to a number of reports -- which include a recent piece by ZDNet Microsoft insider Mary Jo Foley -- his plan is to transform Windows from a discrete product purchase into a subscription model.
 
The transition mirrors the general direction of the industry.
 
Many feel that in terms of consumer product, mobile is killing the traditional PC.  A big part of this feeling is that top mobile platform providers Google Inc. (GOOG) and Apple, Inc. (AAPL) have changed the paradigm for OS updates, rolling out major upgrades with new features every year.  Even Microsoft has embraced this approach on the mobile front.


Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft already has transitioned some of its products such as virtual machine testing/programming environments and Microsoft Office, off the traditional PC and into the cloud.  Mr. Nadella rose up at Microsoft via these pivotal efforts -- Windows Azure and Office 365 -- which are today being viewed as a blueprint with which Microsoft is looking to reinvent itself.

Get in the cloud

To some traditionalists, including many enterprise users, the idea of OS platforms as a service is a foreign one and the idea of being forced to partake in annual updates is a hostile one.  But in the war between enterprise who prefer periods of status quo, and consumers who prefer a more progressive pace, enterprises appear to be on the brink of losing.
 
Microsoft will reportedly make its Release Preview of Windows Threshold (aka Windows 9) contingent on submitting to regular updates.  This is significant as the Preview -- while available to consumers -- is believed to be primarily geared at exciting enterprise clients who were disappointed in Microsoft's Windows 8.x offerings.
 
Traditionally Microsoft has allowed enterprise administrators "go their own way", distributing to them packages and software that they could use to apply security updates and feature upgrades.
 
On the consumer side Microsoft's movement away from that model actually began well before the advent of mobile devices as a dominant form of personal computing.  It actually traces back to 2003 and was motivated by the quick-moving paces of security threats.  Microsoft's Windows Update program was the first effort to accustom users to the idea of regular updates to their device's OS.  Its updates have since grown less intrusive to the point where in Windows 8.x, patches can now modify components of Windows without even forcing a reboot of the whole OS.
 
The holdout against regular updates on the enterprise side is very real.  As much as Windows 9 looks to add features that appeal to enterprise clients and to try to fix what enterprise clients hated most about Windows 8.x, some may hate Windows 9 equally for removing the control of micromanaging their platform (at least on the client side) from their hands.

Windows 9
Windows 9 adds back the Start Menu, adds virtual desktops, and generally caters more to enterprise clients. [Image Source: My Digital Life Forums]

But such complaints are likely more paranoid rhetoric than reality.  While Microsoft's update process is not without flaws, more granular software distributions have suffered even worse issues.  Indeed, most large business have experienced occasional disruptions when administrators deign to apply patches to the masses, disruptions that likely at least equal whatever hiccups Microsoft's next generation enterprise client platforms may experience.  Further, enterprise clients have already embraced the model Microsoft is turning to, when it comes to mobile devices.
 
Under the new pace of updates we can expect major releases (Windows 10, 11, and 12) every two years, or so -- similar to what we see with Windows Phone.  These major releases will be punctuated by mid-size updates on the off years, again similar to Windows Phone.  So assuming rumors of a spring 2015 launch of Windows 9 prove true, we might expect a spring 2017 launch of Windows 10 and subsequent launches of Windows 11 and 12, respectively, in the spring of 2019 and 2021.
 
Windows 9
[Image Source: Windows Store (Wallpaper App)]

An interesting side note of the ZDNet report is that it cites sources as saying that next month's Windows Threshold preview will only be available for x86 devices.  It indicates that a preview of Windows Threshold for ARM will be rolled out in Jan. or Feb. 2015, a couple months before the final launch of the operating system.  The report does not mention or clarify whether this means Windows 9 on ARM will release after the base x86 version of Windows 9, or will simply have a shorter testing cycle.  Either way that's something to keep an eye on.

Microsoft recently made Windows Phone and Windows 8.1/Windows RT 8.1 available to OEMs for free on devices with 9-inch or smaller screens.  ZDNet suggests even bigger changes could be coming, with Ms. Foley writing:

The next phase of change could get really interesting. DoesMicrosoft go the subscription route with its updates and patches, as my colleague Larry Dignan is assuming? Or does Microsoft make these patches and updates free in the hope of keeping users on its platforms and hope to offset the cost by attracting users to subscribe to its other software and services? I've heard from my sources that Microsoft might go so far as to make Windows Threshold free to Windows 7 and Windows 8.X users to try to get the majority of its Windows users on the most up-to-date release. 

Lastly, a report from Neowin reveals a potential mechanism that Microsoft may employ to soften the blow of forcing enterprise users into a more regular update pace.  According to that report Microsoft is testing a button that an administrator would push to apply the latest patches.  This would allow administrators to delay the adoption of major patches until they prove healthy on the consumer side, but would still move them closer to a fully automated process.

updgrade -- Beyonce
Microsoft is reportedly pitching the idea of an "upgrade button" at enterprise clients.
[Image Source: YouTube]

It's unclear whether Microsoft will make this "Upgrade Windows" button of sorts available to consumers in next month's Preview.  In short, many mysteries and questions remain, but Microsoft's most connected followers appear in unanimous agreement that Microsoft is in the midst of a major shift with the release of Windows 9.

Sources: ZDNet, Neowin





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