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Will quicker Office and Windows releases help or hurt IT?

As Microsoft tries to become as agile as Apple and Google, there's concern that fast-paced Windows releases won't work for enterprise customers.

As Microsoft pushes to become more like Apple and Google, IT pros are trying to sort out the ramifications.

The company's pattern of delivering major Office and Windows releases every three years has worked well for decades. (The two products accounted for more than half of Microsoft's nearly $70 billion in revenue last year.) But as Apple and Google take a more aggressive approach to updating their respective operating systems and cloud-based applications, Microsoft's model might have run its course. CEO Steve Ballmer admitted as much this week after Windows Division President Steven Sinofsky left the company; the chief executive said Microsoft needs to implement "more integrated and rapid development cycles."

Big Office changes coming

Microsoft will begin with a restructuring of its Office suite. The company plans to merge the core functions and features of Office for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android into a single product, said a source with direct knowledge of the situation. Then, by purchasing a single subscription, users can download this core version along with OS-specific software components, this source said.

The ultimate goal is to eliminate physical installations of Office on any operating system or mobile device, and have all customers acquire and install the product through an online subscription.

It absolutely makes sense to re-architect Office in this way, because there is value in having one license that covers multiple platforms, said Philip L. Moya Jr., IT manager at the San Antonio Kidney Disease Center.

The future of Windows releases

The future is not so clear when it comes to Windows, Microsoft's other flagship product. With a completely redesigned, touchscreen-enabled interface, Windows 8 and Windows RT, its counterpart based on the ARM processor, could struggle to gain traction in the enterprise.

Moya has looked at the new Microsoft-manufactured Surface RT tablet, but it has too many shortcomings for business use, he said. "[You're] not able to join Active Directory domains or push out Group Policies," he said. "Those are deal breakers for the Surface RT, since that's how IT handles management of its computing assets."

More on Office and Windows releases

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Moya will wait for the Intel-based version of the Surface, which is due out in 2013, because it will provide the management features he said his medical center needs.

Microsoft will need to establish an effective mobile strategy if it is to thrive -- or at least survive -- in this new era of computing.

"Their tablets look interesting, but they are not in the same conversation here with Apple," said Len Barney, purchasing agent with a large transportation company in Jacksonville, Fla. "We aren't ready to dive into Windows 8 for both desktops and mobile stuff. That's a longer process."

As Microsoft execs reexamine their Office and Windows release cycles, they should treat the desktop and mobile markets differently, said Al Gillen, a program vice president with IDC. "If Microsoft is going to have one operating system stretching across tablets and PCs, they have to build in some flexibility on the tablet side of things to be more responsive to market needs," he said. "The PC cycle has to be slower, more measured -- the way it has always been."

Some critics have suggested Microsoft should have focused on delivering new versions of Windows for tablets and smartphones first, then delivered Windows 8 for the desktop at least a year later. By then, their thinking goes, corporate shops would have had more time to get adjusted to the product's capabilities and been more open to upgrading from Windows 7.

Dig Deeper on Windows 8 and 8.1

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Does Microsoft need a shorter Windows release cycle?
it is always better to have shorter release cycle - to catch-up to the changing landscape and be competitive
Microsoft does not seem to realize the impact that these changes (the learning curve) has on businesses. Iam at the point that if someone else comes along with a decent OS --- by by Microsoft !!!
Manufacturing (non-High Tech) companies do not have the infrastructure in place to absorb shorter release cycles. While the software vendors may say they will keep the net cost over time to the customer the same, it doesn't account for the additional staff companies will need to carry out the more frequent upgrades. Also, their ability to delay upgrade costs during slow business cycles goes away. Microsoft will have to make a very strong business value case to get Mfg. companies to swallow this.
In the old paradigm, it probably would have made sense to deliver updates to different devices on a different schedule. Going forward, Microsoft should deliver Windows 8+ updates to all devices on the same timeline. Maybe tablets would get more opportunities to update (like iOS on the iPad), but those updates would also be available to other devices (laptops, desktops).
They need better OS....meaning "More Productive" Windows 7 is at least stabel ...Windows 8 looks like an appeal to the 20's crowd...Not a business productivity increase at all...I tried Windows is a step backward for me.
Shorter for Tablets and Phones where it is less managed and maintain the current cycle for PCs which are a much more managed process.
win7 was good, why dump it just as it gets going?
Too radical of a programming change
I am concerned that large corporates hiding behind deeper and deeper firewalls will not see any benefit of moving to subscription based/cloud computing as they simply will not allow this level of access to the internet. Our company is looking at moving away from Microsoft for OS and Office suites due to poor licencing options and cost. 80,000 employees....
Annual upgrades with backward at least 10 year compatibility for hardware and software.
It's the economy Stupid. Too often, version upgrades require new computers. In case they've not got the word, Blood, Stone, Squeezing thereof.
Minor improvements through servicepacks maybe - but businesses cannot afford to keep rolling out new versions of software to large numbers of staff all the time. It takes time to train people as well. Google and Apple may have users looking for free software but businesses want software they can trust and Office is that. As for the OS - new OS usually means new hardware, but changes can be made through servicepacks - many other OS providors give new releases that aren't that big a change, more like Microsoft's servicepack changes. We are only now moving to Windows 7, a 3 year program for OS is sensible - just make then business capable. Office - stick to servicepack changes rather than a new release. Remember a business with 3000 employees will still only have a single pipe to the Internet - if it goes down and no one can use Word etc is no good. Office 365 Pro looks like a good model at the moment.
One release with no bugs is what I would be aiming for!
O/S's need time to be digested\evaluated in the enterprise environment.
The *only* reason MS wants a shorter release cycle is to milk more money out of already cash-strapped customers. The interests of their customers is of no interest to MS.