Rumor: Microsoft may hasten Windows release cycle

We all remember the long dry spell between the releases of Windows XP and Vista—and Steve Ballmer's subsequent promise that it would never happen again. Microsoft has made good on that promise, shortening its release cycle to about three years. Now, though, the company might be about to speed things up even further.

According to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft is cooking up an update to Windows 8 code-named "Blue," which we're going to see next year, perhaps in the summer. The update might take the form of either a service pack or a "feature pack." However, Foley suggests Microsoft could have something else in mind entirely:

The word seems to be, whichever it is, that Microsoft is moving away from the big-bang Windows release schedule to which it typically has adhered, and is now attempting to move toward something more like what Apple does, with point releases.

For reference, since the debut of OS X 10.0 in March 2001, Apple has rolled out eight major point releases at an average pace of one release every 17 months or so. Each update generally brings major new features or bundled applications. We've only seen three major new versions of Windows over that same time frame—XP, Vista, and Win7. (The fourth one, Windows 8, is still a couple months away.)

Microsoft has already dropped hints about adopting a more Apple-like cadence. In another story posted last week, Foley includes a quote from Bob Kelly, Marketing Corporate VP for Windows Azure, which says:

When you're operating on a cloud-first cadence, you don't have a multiyear ship cycle, full stop. Because of the consumerization of IT, you actually have to deliver even your packaged software on more of a consumer-like cadence. And that consumer-like cadence -- whether that's phone or tablet -- looks more annual.

Interesting. I guess we'll have to stay tuned to see what Microsoft has in store, but if Foley is right and "Blue" is due out next summer, then we may see an announcement in the not-too-distant future.

That said, I don't know if I'm thrilled about the prospect of yearly Windows releases. I've been keeping up with the latest OS X point releases on my Mac, and frankly, the last two have been disappointingly buggy—Lion had compatibility issues with a number of apps, and Mountain Lion seems to have problems with Windows file sharing. New versions of Windows are often rough around the edges at first, but the longer release cycles seem to allow more time for kinks to be ironed out.

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