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Windows 8.1: What's in a name (and why it matters)

Gregg Keizer | April 8, 2013
The name for this summer's first rapid-response OS upgrade raises questions on future support, licensing

So what happens for support? No one knows.

"With Blue, does that mean to get support on Window 8, I have to have Blue?" asked Michael Cherry, also of Directions on Microsoft, referring to the code name for what will be Windows 8.1.

Rob Helm, another Directions on Microsoft analyst, reeled off more questions that Windows 8.1, nee Blue, poses.

"Is the new release going to be required for support, like service packs have been?" Helm asked. "Will Microsoft restart the [10-year] support clock? Will Blue expire from support the same day as Windows 8, or will it expire a year later than Windows 8?"

Historically, Microsoft has supported Windows for at least 10 years, with any service packs hewing to the original deadline. In other words, while Windows 7 SP1 appeared 16 months after Windows 7 RTM, the former will fall off the support list Jan. 14, 2020, the same date originally pegged for soon-to-be-retired Windows 7 RTM.

But the new and faster Windows development may not observe the older rules, which is what concerns Cherry, Helm and Miller.

"And what apps will be able to run on Blue?" Helm wondered. "Will some come out that won't run without Blue? Microsoft's done that at times with service packs."

Questions, it seems are plentiful, but answers are not.

"This is all tied together," said Cherry. "And there are no answers."

Microsoft has been mum, even though it has acknowledged Blue and said it will now pursue a faster development and upgrade cadence, one that the company's top public relations executive called "continuous" in a blog post last week.

So enterprises remain in the dark about Windows' accelerated development. Microsoft's core constituency and its most important revenue source, business, already has reason to worry about the faster pace: By nature, corporations loath operating system changes because of their cost and potential for disruption.

To be fair, few companies have adopted Windows 8 for anything more than small-scale pilot programs, and today's mystery could well be solved tomorrow. And psychologically, "Windows 8.1" will go down easier than would have "Windows 9." Still, the pattern of Microsoft rushing where enterprises fear to tread is troubling.

So much so that Microsoft may find it hard selling the quicker tempo to enterprises. "They're going to [be] under pressure to keep corporate customers happy, and still have a viable consumer OS that keeps up with the fad of the year," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in an interview last week. "It's going to be really tough."


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