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Windows 8's no-name update plan nails OS's coffin shut

Gregg Keizer | Aug. 11, 2014
Policy of smaller, faster updates also heralds broad changes to Windows in the future, say analysts; puts enterprises even further behind 8-ball.

"I don't know for sure," said Miller. "But I read LeBlanc's blog as saying, 'We sure aren't going to do what we did last time,'" referring to the Update 1 requirement.

Corporate customers running Windows 8.1 — admittedly a small group — must have Update 1 in place by Tuesday or they will not receive this month's patches.

"The most significant thing is that while this change delivers some new features, it is not being forced upon enterprises in short order as the [Windows 8.1 Update 1] earlier this year was," said Miller.

Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner, saw it differently.

"Microsoft wants to make Windows work like a phone [OS]," said Silver of the frequent and free upgrades for mobile operating systems like Apple's iOS. "They're not there yet. Certainly, they're hoping that enterprises can absorb [frequent updates] more easily."

But Silver believes that Microsoft will continue to set baselines like Windows 8.1 Update 1 that must be deployed to continue receiving security updates. Optional updates won't cut it. "Microsoft needs to have known configurations out there," said Silver. "It's hard to do that with optional updates, so at some point they'll have to push a requirement."

LeBlanc said that businesses would be able to pass on the monthly OS updates. "[These] will be delivered automatically via WU [Windows Update] and optional through WSUS [Windows Server Update Services]," LeBlanc wrote. "Enterprises can take the update anytime."

And the even-more-frequent OS updates won't eliminate the necessity for Microsoft to launch a successor to Windows 8 in its traditional fashion, Silver argued. "Every three years or so they need to make a splash," he said of the usual marketing blitz that Microsoft conducts to convince customers, consumers for the most part, to buy new Windows systems.

Microsoft still makes the bulk of its Windows revenue from sales of licenses to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), the Lenovos, Dells and HPs of the world. Boosting hardware sales with a new OS has been a cornerstone of Microsoft's OEM strategy, and thus its Windows strategy.

That will be even more important this time around, as personal computer sales have been in a nine-quarter slump, with consumer sales hit most seriously. Revenue from OEM licensing of consumer-grade Windows, what Microsoft calls "non-Pro," declined 17% in the fiscal year that ended June 30, for example. During the same period, revenue from OEM licensing of commercial-quality Windows climbed by 12%.

The winners from Microsoft's switch to a constant update process, both analysts agreed, are consumers.

"Any acceleration in cadence is generally going to be beneficial for consumers," said Miller. "The biggest question is how enterprises will come to terms with consumer/BYOD devices coming in with more updated OSes than the business may have traditionally become used to."


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