Windows 8 was officially released October 26, which means under Microsoft's standard operating procedure, we will have to wait at least a few years before the next Windows software upgrade arrives.
But Redmond might be changing its game plan.
Word of the next version of Windows, codenamed Windows Blue, first leaked in August, well before the wrapping was removed from Windows 8. Now The Verge reports that unnamed sources have confirmed Windows Blue's existence and that the next-generation software (rumored to be released in mid-2013) represents a new strategy for Microsoft.
Instead of kicking back for a few years after releasing a new OS as in the past, CEO Steve Ballmer and his team might move toward annual refreshes, complete with user-interface redesigns, new features, and a lower-cost upgrade pricing structure. Basically, Microsoft will be adopting the strategies of Apple and Google, which cycle through upgrades regularly and often.
"I think the world is different than it was 10 years ago, and everybody has to change," says NPD Group analyst Stephen Baker. "Microsoft has already started down that path with Windows 8 to begin with: different interface, something that's a lot more focused on touch, a lot more integrated with tablets and its cellphone operating system. There's no reason they wouldn't go toward an OS upgrade schedule that looks more like what the rest of the industry is already doing."
Blue: Windows 9 or Windows 8.1?
Windows Blue would also standardize features across Windows and Windows Phone for more cross-platform cohesion. Sources told The Verge that Microsoft plans to encourage developers to develop apps for Windows Blue instead of building only for Windows 8.
But as ZDNet first reported back in August, it is unclear of Windows Blue will represent a major upgrade from Windows 8, or merely a small update, or a service pack, with bug fixes and minor tweaks. Windows Blue could be Windows 8.1, or Windows 9. Microsoft, of course, isn't saying. Baker says it's unlikely a new version of Windows released next year would be a dramatic change in course.
"Nowadays, nobody does radical, big-bang departures like Windows 8," he says. "Everything is incremental. The reason you do a lot of small upgrades is to give people more time to adjust to changes."