Recently, The Verge and ZDNet both reported that Microsoft, having just released Windows 8 in its various flavors (Win 8, Win 8 RT, and Win Phone 8), is already working on the next release of Windows. This isn't news of course. Work on the "next" release of Windows started long before Windows 8 began to approach anything near its release stage following a hugely extended pre-release test phase.
Historically of course, we would expect the next new release of Windows to be yet another monolithic giant that might be called Windows 9, and along the way we would expect to see service pack releases for Windows 8 delivering "minor-major" upgrades along the way. So the real question becomes…is Microsoft perhaps up to something different and new, that might break the historic cycle of Windows releases?
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The answer is a very strong "maybe."
Mary Jo Foley over at ZDNet, for example, has heard that "the next version of Windows is not going to be Windows 9. Instead, I've heard from a couple of my contacts that some kind of an update is coming next year. The Windows release codenamed ‘Blue’ - mentioned by Win8China last week - is likely the codename of this interim release, my contacts claim."
Blue is a popular color with the folks who code-name things at Microsoft. It's been used in other product lines, so perhaps there is nothing here that merits attention. Maybe we'll see something called Windows Blue (which we like quite a bit), as both Foley and The Verge suggest, or we won't.
The real bigger issue is that a next release of Windows may be coming far sooner than has historically been the case. That is a good thing if it pans out. Why?
Mobile means "FAST"
It is clear to us at this point that Microsoft has finally figured out what Apple already knows - that the golden age of the PC is indeed over. It is no longer an issue of speculation - there are plenty of hard shipment number reports available now that clearly point to the PC's decline, and in turn this manifests itself in declining interest in PCs. It's about time Microsoft woke up to the reality.
The reality encompasses today's world of mobility - and this world only moves at one speed - fast. Actually two speeds - fast and even faster.
This wakeup call - which is directly linked to the speed of mobility in today's market in both the consumer and enterprise segments, leads us to believe that Microsoft has pulled together a new operating system game plan that directly addresses the rapid pace of a mobile world. So we now have Windows Blue.
One thing we can be certain of is that Microsoft will continue to drive its new "dynamic and active" visual interface. And it will continue to drive the cohesiveness of its newly integrated Windows ecosystem. Doing so specifically requires moving away from the old monolithic upgrade and next huge release approach.
Going forward, operating system upgrades need to be entirely responsive to fast-changing market conditions - both at the hardware and software levels - and it appears that Microsoft has gotten on board with this. Admittedly this is all speculation coming from everywhere. But the need for Microsoft to make this leap takes a lot of the "large picture" speculation out of it even if we don't really know the details (and Microsoft of course isn't officially speaking about any of this) - it becomes much more of a safe bet to think this is where Microsoft is headed.
Here is what The Verge recently reported relative to Windows Blue:
”…the update on the Windows side, due in mid-2013, will include UI changes and alterations to the entire platform and pricing. We’re told that Microsoft is aiming to make Windows Blue the next OS that everyone installs. The approach is simple - Microsoft will price its next Windows release at a low cost or even free to ensure users upgrade. Once Windows Blue is released, the Windows SDK will be updated to support the new release and Microsoft will stop accepting apps that are built specifically for Windows 8, pushing developers to create apps for Blue. Windows 8 apps will continue to run on Blue despite the planned SDK changes."
Assuming there are grains of possible realities in the above - and we believe there are - the description is in keeping with the new needs we've outlined that Microsoft now has for rapid OS deployment, rapid OS upgrades, and especially the need to be able to do so easily across all of its platforms cohesively and consistently.
It is particularly interesting to note the pricing issue. If Microsoft implements pricing along the lines suggested it would work to make upgrades almost entirely frictionless - at least for the consumer market.
Realistically, there are, of course, significant complexities involved on the enterprise side. Although Microsoft says it has now sold at least 40 million licenses to Windows 8, which is but a very tiny percentage of the Windows market. Win 8 paid enormous attention - rightly - to backwards compatibility with Windows 7. Although transitioning from Windows 8 to Windows Blue should - at least in theory and based on the Windows Blue description above - be easy, how a Windows Blue scenario might pan out for enterprises relative to Windows 7 (as well as Windows XP and Windows Vista) will be quite challenging.
A key goal for Microsoft is to move enterprises into today's (and tomorrow's) world. Now that Microsoft has taken the plunge and has moved fully into the fast-paced mobile centric world, enterprises need to do the same. Enterprise laggards need to step up, bite the bullet and make the move as well. We hope they do.
Edited by Brooke Neuman