Speaking at Microsoft Ignite, the company’s multi-day event for connecting with the IT crowd, Jerry Nixon, one of the company’s developer evangelists, broke the news.
“Right now we’re releasing Windows 10, and because Windows 10 is the last version of Windows, we’re all still working on Windows 10,” he said.
But the real meaning is almost as momentous: Windows 10 represents a shift in the way the company thinks about Windows. As several Microsoft executives have said — and inferring from all the updates to the current Windows 10 beta program — it’s shifting the software to a “Windows as a service” model, as opposed to a piece of software you buy and more or less leave alone until the next model.
All this started at a moment during one of CEO Satya Nadella’s early earnings calls, when he talked (a bit confusingly) about his vision for “one Windows” running across all devices. That vision came into much sharper focus when Microsoft officially unveiled Windows 10 in the fall, where the company announced a new kind of public beta program for testing the software, with direct feedback from users as well as regular updates.
Then, in the new year, Microsoft presented its Windows vision to consumers; clearly, it meant what it said about Windows 10 on all kinds of devices when it unveiled the exciting HoloLenswearable. And last week, amid the launch the latest Windows 10 beta during the Build developer conference, the company stated the software would get many feature updates even after its launched.
Now it’s clear those updates will be perpetual. Windows will be, going forward, more akin to Google Chrome, which was one of the first big consumer-facing examples of software as a service, in the modern sense. For Chrome users, updates typically happen in the background and features are added or get turned on as they roll out.
Updates can even include big changes that are invisible to users. Chrome replaced its entire browser engine (from the open-source WebKit to its homegrown Blink) a couple of years back, but users didn’t even notice. To them, it’s still just Chrome, not Chrome 42, which is technically the current version number.
At its recent events, Microsoft has pledged Windows 10 will arrive in the summer. However, when asked about an official “release to manufacturing” RTM launch — the point in the release cycle when Microsoft sends the software to PC manufacturers — Microsoft Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore essentially said it wouldn’t be as big a deal this time around.
Windows 10 won’t ship with every promised feature at launch; many will be “lit up” at a later date. For example, extensions in Edge, the new browser, won’t arrive until a little while after launch.
While these kind of feature updates are the norm in the app realm, for Windows, it’s a big change from previous generations. Yes, the OS gets patches and bug fixes all the time, but feature upgrades are handled differently. With Windows 8, there were really only two major upgrades (Windows 8.1 and the Windows 8.1 Update), and the original release was back in 2012.
Switching to the Windows-as-a-service model is a significant change to Microsoft’s business model, even more so because Windows 10 will be a free upgrade to anyone running Windows 7 or later. Traditionally, Microsoft has charged a nominal upgrade fee for existing Windows users, but now the model appears to be, “You buy once, you’re in forever.”
With that membership, you’ll get keep getting upgrades as long as your hardware supports them. This is just like Chrome, your apps, and other operating systems like iOS operate. There will still be launch events for certain feature packs (and you can be sure the term “beta” will become more common on Windows features), but it’ll all still be Windows 10. I suspect the version number will eventually fade to the background, and it’ll just be referred to, colloquially, as “Windows.”
In other words, Windows, as a service, will never go to 11.