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Microsoft's Windows release schedule is in need of a change

How Windows 8 and other historical issues with Windows show that Microsoft's three-year upgrade schedule may be working against it.

Microsoft made a lot changes following the Vista fiasco. One of them was the promise to release a new operating system every three years. The gap between XP and Vista was six years, and in that time technology advanced significantly. The original XP wouldn't see a hard drive larger than 178GB, if you remember.

The result was all this advanced hardware, with multicore processors and fast ports, loaded with the relatively ancient Windows XP that failed to take full advantage of the hardware. The release of Windows 7 in 2009 meant we had gone eight years in between worthwhile OS upgrades, and once again the hardware world had changed considerably. Service Packs did help some, but fundamental changes were needed from the kernel up.

The Forrester report that's getting around makes me wonder if the three-year policy is a good idea. In a nutshell, IT has said that Windows 8 is not worth the enormous effort to migrate, and after getting off XP, IT is in no mood to go through that again.

It is hardly shocking news that IT is change-averse. They have enough headaches, from understaffing to managing BYOD, to engage in wholesale OS migrations every three years. If they are going to do it, Microsoft had better make it worth the trouble.

And in the case of Windows 8, Microsoft failed to make the sale. We've beaten that horse into the ground. So let's move on.

Traditionally, IT skips every other Windows release. It embraced Windows 97, but skipped Windows ME in favor of Windows 2000. It adopted XP because it was a major polish to 2000, avoided Vista, and has embraced 7.

Part of that is because Windows versions are like the old Star Trek movies: they alternate between good and lousy. The other reason is IT's adversity to constant change. You have CIOs today who grew up in the age of mainframes. They don't want to deploy new hardware and operating systems every three years. And they sure don't want to spend money on a project with no tangible return.

And let's be real: this three-year release cycle has as much to do with long-term corporate contacts as keeping software up to date with hardware, if not more so. Well, Microsoft released Windows 8 right in time for many contracts to run up, and how many of them are buying Windows 8?

Microsoft needs to rethink its three-ear cadence for Windows. There are two successful models to consider: Mac OS X and Windows Server. Mac OS X has been on the market 12 years and Apple has been able to steadily update it and keep it modern through regular upgrades. But Apple has an advantage Microsoft doesn't have: its kernel is significantly more advanced and mature. The Windows 8 kernel remains a work in progress.

The other example is Windows Server. It comes out every four to five years, but when it does, the changes are enormous. Server 2012 has gotten a positive reception because of all the improvements, so much so that deployments may be held up as sys-admins try to get their brains around everything.

I know Windows Blue is a big update to the OS, but that’s because they are fixing a lot of it. Developers tell me how Windows 8 has a lot of inconsistencies across the platforms and they suspect it's from rushing. And let's face it - Blue is also going to be a fix as Microsoft backtracks on some of its really bad ideas.

Whether they adopt the Server release schedule or OS X schedule model, the three-year release cycle just doesn't work anymore. We don't need Windows 9 in 2015. Businesses don't want to disrupt what works and for that matter, neither are consumers.

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