More frequent releases mean more frequent features
Moving to a more rapid release schedule could also reap dividends for Microsoft on the innovation front, giving the company an opportunity to release new features on a far more frequent basis than with the traditional three(ish)-year Windows cycle. Three years is three lifetimes in the technology world.
To put Microsoft current release cycle in perspective, consider that the original iPad hadn't even seen the light of day when Windows 7 launched.
Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, says that the massive gap between Windows releases has led to the company being "perpetually behind as a thought leader," with each new Windows iteration playing catch-up with the competition rather than introducing truly forward-thinking features like Siri or Google Now. Yearly upgrades could level the playing field for Microsoft.
"I don't think there's any doubt the right thing for Microsoft to do is accelerate the pace of desktop updates," Moorhead says.
The uproar over Windows 8's drastic design change points to another potential benefit of switching to yearly updates: More frequent updates mean less radical updates, which in turn means fewer changes for users to become acclimated to. "Nowadays, nobody does radical, big-bang departures like Windows 8," NPD Group analyst Stephen Baker told PCWorld when the Windows Blue news first broke. "The reason you do a lot of small upgrades is to give people more time to adjust to changes."
While the analysts we spoke to said that moving to an annual release schedule is a good idea for Microsoft--"They should have done this years ago," says Enderle--they expressed varying levels of confidence in Microsoft's ability to actually pull off the transition successfully.
"I am skeptical Microsoft can fundamentally accelerate innovation, because they are not wired to do that," Moorhead told us. "Microsoft is a commercial company first and a consumer company second, and commercial interests move much slower than consumer innovation."
"In many ways, Microsoft's hand is being forced, as Apple has really emphasized this idea of annual releases for first their mobile, and now their desktop, OS," says Miller. "These changes have to be carefully considered, though -- as even Apple makes these releases more iterative, and less 'revolutionary,' where we are used to the opposite from Microsoft; consider the changes between Windows 2000, XP, Vista, 7, and 8."
On the plus side, frequent and incremental changes could make new Windows releases more palatable to the notoriously gun shy enterprise crowd. Big companies are very hesitant to make major changes. Many only recently switched to Windows 7 recently, many more still utilize Windows XP, and very few I.T. managers have plans to implement Windows 8 anytime soon.
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