It's also of interest to early adopters. "Some customers, particularly small businesses, have fewer concerns, so First Release also provides this group with a way to get updates sooner if they want them," Zborowski adds.
Microsoft expects as few as 2 percent of customers to opt in to First Release initially although that could rise to as much as 10 percent as other services apart from Exchange and SharePoint are added.
(At its SharePoint Conference 2014, Microsoft also announced another change management process, NDA Preview, which would have given customers willing to sign up to an NDA agreement even more time to preview Office 365 updates and provide feedback to Microsoft. But these plans have changed, Zborowski says. "We found that it wasn't useful and the information we got from the program was not being used by our engineers. The goals were noble, but the NDA Program has been cancelled.")
'Cloud-first' Development Compelled Microsoft to Communicate Office 365 Roadmaps
What's prompted these changes is a fundamental alteration to the way that Office 365 is engineered, Zborowski says. Previously updates were first developed for Microsoft's on-premises Office software and then ported to the cloud-based Office 365. Since February, Microsoft has been building for the cloud first.
"A significant amount of work was needed to achieve this. We have had to change the way we build our software," Zborowski says. "Before, we forked our code, packaged in for on-premises, then figured out how to do the changes in the cloud. Now we no longer branch the code we enhance the live (Office 365) code that people are running on."
As a result of this change, Microsoft has moved from a model of releasing updates once every three or four months to small, incremental updates every day. "There have been over 100 additions of merit since February," Zborowski says, including the ability for administrators to manage passwords, updates to sharing in email and Office an real-time co-authoring.
Office 365 is Microsoft's fastest ever growing product, according to the company, and organizations already well inclined toward Software as a Service have been natural adopters. But is it possible that Microsoft has seen the rate of adoption slow as this "low-hanging fruit" has now been harvested? Does Microsoft need to offer better change management hand-holding to entice the next tranche of less SaaS-minded companies to switch to Office 365?
That's the view of Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. "On the consumer side, Microsoft is doing much better than I had expected, but on the enterprise side, it has probably got all the low-hanging fruit it can," he says. "Now [it's] finally ready to communicate better, and in fact [it's] compelled to."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.