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December 14, 2006

Is Microsoft thinking of closing Windows?

Gartner Inc has predicted that the recently released Windows Vista will be the last major release of Microsoft Corp's Windows operating system.

By CBR Staff Writer

While that might seem like an outlandish statement at first glance, the research firm went on to explain that it believes Microsoft will move to a modular, incremental update model for future versions of Windows.

Microsoft has increased its use of Windows Update as a software delivery mechanism in recent years, using it for the distribution of Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Internet Explorer 7, and the company admits that it is considering its options.

There is a definite learning that we had from SP2 that the market understands that and in general it was a great experience, Cynthia Crossley, UK director of Microsoft’s Windows client business group, told Computer Business Review recently when asked about the increasing use of Windows Update for software delivery.

Crossley maintained that the company continues to see more value in traditionally packaged software rather than subscription-based models, however, although she indicated that Microsoft will continue to use Windows Update where appropriate.

There is a middle ground between the two, she added, indicating that software updates could increasingly complement packaged software, rather than replace it. I think SP2 was really interesting. In some ways it worked much better than we expected. It depends on what the application is, and the size of it.

Given the level of attention on Microsoft’s shipment dates, and its tendency to miss them, you could forgive the company for deciding to move away from the monolithic delivery model. Compare the potential significance of a Windows delay on Microsoft’s financial performance in a particular quarter to Red Hat Inc’s attitude to a delay for its core operating system.

Nick Carr, director of marketing for Enterprise Linux at Red Hat, recently noted that the company is in no hurry to rush the delayed RHEL 5 out the door since the launch of the product is not a revenue event for the company. By that, he meant that customers who have active subscriptions for RHEL 3 or RHEL 4 get the new version for free when it becomes available. Red Hat customers are not paying to use a particular version of Enterprise Linux, but to subscribe to support and updates to whichever one is available.

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That appears to be what Gartner is suggesting Microsoft may consider in the future. Vista will be the last major release of Microsoft Windows. The next generation of operating environments will be more modular and will be updated incrementally, it noted as it delivered its key predictions for 2007. The era of monolithic deployments of software releases is nearing an end. Microsoft will be a visible player in this movement, and the result will be more-flexible updates to Windows and a new focus on quality overall.

Moving to a modular architecture is one thing, but moving to a subscription software model is quite another. Despite Gartner’s convictions, it remains to be seen whether Microsoft is prepared, or even willing, to make that leap.

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