November 28, 2012, 9:40 PM — Microsoft will speed up the release cadence of Windows, starting in 2013, to issue annual OS upgrades, according to reports on the Web today.
But analysts believe that the new pace will be both difficult for Microsoft to achieve, and more importantly, will be rejected by its biggest customers unless the company takes the even more drastic step of splitting Windows in two.
As reported by The Verge on Wednesday, Microsoft will ship an upgrade to Windows 8, currently code-named "Windows Blue," in mid-2013. The upgrade, analogous to what Microsoft has called "service packs" in the past, will not only refresh Windows 8 but inaugurate an annual schedule.
Citing "several sources familiar with Microsoft's plans," The Verge also claimed that next year's upgrade will be either low-cost or free to get as many customers as possible onto the new build, which will continue to use the Windows 8 branding.
Service packs, which have rarely offered new features, have always been free to current Windows users.
But while analysts generally applauded the concept of faster Windows upgrades, they were dubious about Microsoft's ability to pull off an accelerated schedule or get all customers to buy into the idea.
"I do think Microsoft will pick up the pace," said Michael Silver of Gartner in previously-unpublished comments made during an interview last month. "But any time Microsoft picks up the pace, it causes an issue with enterprises."
Consumers may want more frequent operating system upgrades -- Apple's customers did not revolt in massive numbers when the Cupertino, Calif. company shifted to an annual schedule this year with the release of OS X Mountain Lion -- businesses do not. They prefer long release cycles, to give them time to digest each upgrade, test it before deploying to company-controlled PCs, and ideally, refresh their hardware, something that happens, at best, every three to five years.
The solution? Split Windows into two discrete versions -- one for consumers, the other for businesses -- something that's not been done for more than a decade.
"What Microsoft needs to do is to move to different cycles for consumer versus enterprise, since a faster pace has mostly consumer repercussions," said Silver.
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy agreed.
"I think Microsoft would attempt to limit this [accelerated schedule] by disconnecting the cadence," Moorhead said in an interview today. "They'll provide faster upgrades for consumers, and treat upgrades for enterprises as they do today."