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Windows' new normal shows software-as-a-service ambitions

Gregg Keizer | April 21, 2014
Microsoft's new updating "normal" for Windows -- a faster-paced tempo that demands customers apply releases within weeks -- is a first step in moving the OS to a services-style model. But companies may be leery of the change.

The reality is more complicated. Microsoft might not have had to issue Windows 8.1 Update, or perhaps even Windows 8.1, if it had paid attention to critics' warnings that Windows 8 — particularly its emphasis on touch and de-emphasis of the traditional — was too radical a redesign for users to swallow.

And Miller believed there was more at play behind the scenes, especially Microsoft's desire to shift Windows to a software-as-a-service model for updating, if not for revenue.

"It's a weird Catch-22," Miller said. On one hand, Microsoft is advocating rapid acceptance of operating system updates to bring Windows into the 21st century, where mobile OS updates are not only frequent for competitive-advantage reasons, but where the majority of users readily accept them. On the other, enterprises dislike change and can point to flaws in Microsoft's current updating processes, like the one last week that suspended delivery of Windows 8.1 Update and Windows Server 2012 R2 Update for seven days, as reasons not to trust Microsoft.

The result, said both Miller and Silver, will be retrenchment by enterprises, which have standardized on Windows 7. In the face of Microsoft's attempt to deliver Windows in a more service-style model, they expect companies to hold onto Windows 7 longer and more passionately than they might have sans the successor's accelerated pace.

"It's really unclear how organizations that have compliance and validation requirements like healthcare and pharma will be able to keep up," said Silver. "They will likely have to sit on Windows 7 until they can figure it out."

"Microsoft wants people to be deploying Windows 8.x in the future," said Miller. "But what I fear is that a lot of businesses will hold back and wait with Windows 7."

Neither analyst believed Microsoft would monkey with Windows 7 in the same way it's updating Windows 8.x. "Windows 7 is much more likely to be left alone by Microsoft," said Silver.

"I don't expect another service pack for Windows 7," echoed Miller. Microsoft last shipped a Windows 7 service pack in February 2011, and has given no hint that it will follow with an SP2.

The uproar if Microsoft did change Windows 7's updating practice would be enormous. And therein lies Microsoft's between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place situation: It wants to change how it does business, but the more it does the harder enterprises' heels dig in.

As an illustration, Miller contended that many of Microsoft's moves to quell the unrest generated by Windows 8 and even those to support legacy scenarios — such as IE11's Enterprise Mode that improves rendering of websites designed for IE8 — are threats to the company's efforts to drag customers into the future.


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