There’s been a bit of fuss in the tech press this week after the next version of Windows, codenamed Windows Blue, leaked onto the Internet. Whilst I’m sure its all very exciting in its own right, I think there’s another aspect to this release that’s worth talking about, and that’s Microsoft’s new fondness for annual release cycles.
In addition to Windows, Microsoft have also recently started to talk about a 2014 release for the next version of Lync, their unified communications platform. This is of course all in addition to the monthly releases made to the Office 365 cloud services. The ‘click-to-run’ deployment tools for Office 2013’s subscription licenses would also allow MS to easily release regular upgrades of Office. If this is a sign of things to come what will it mean?
In some ways this is great news, it means we’ll get lots of new technology and capability. Certainly from I’ve heard of the new Lync release it’ll be a worthwhile update. Looking at it from Microsoft’s perspective they get to bring their cloud and on-premises releases closer in line, helping them to demonstrate the long term value of their subscription model and Software Assurance (their name for software maintenance contracts). The later in particular is something that has haunted MS since Vista’s late release – lots of companies effectively paid for an OS upgrade they didn’t get, and it’s cost MS dearly in lost Enterprise Agreements.
The problem with more frequent release cycles is that deploying software, especially new software, isn’t actually all that easy. Sure Windows Blue will do just fine with consumers, but companies often struggle with the current three year release cycle for the major products. Few organisations deploy every version of software they’re entitled to, for many every other version is more appropriate. That’s not because these organisations don’t know what they’re doing, it’s because making changes costs money, money spent on peoples time, testing, training, communications, you name it. Why change if what you have is working well? Thinking ahead to next year, I know that I would have a hard time justifying any significant changes to software we might have only just deployed (yes that’s you Lync 2014).
I suspect that MS know exactly how hard keeping up will be – hell, they employ teams of people targeted solely on getting people to install and use the software they’ve already bought – and is hoping that IT organisations will look at the number of upgrades they’re missing out on and start moving towards Office 365 where MS does all the leg work for them. There’s something to be said for that, and as their wider suite of cloud services matures the 365 and inTune platforms are likely to form a bigger part in companies futures. But they’re not for everyone, and for those who can’t, or don’t want to buy into the cloud could be in for a frustrating time.