Whew, what a year! As 2019 draws to a close, a big talking point in the computing world is the curious case of Windows 10 development. Few would have imagined Microsoft to take the direction for its OS that it has taken this year.
Those of you keeping up with things may be aware of the tangle the operating platform finds itself in. With recent feature updates lacking in terms of features, the state of the Windows Insider Program, and the small matter of Windows 10X, you may be forgiven for thinking something is wrong behind Redmond walls.
What on God’s green earth is happening?
The World has changed
Like all good stories, there is more to it than meets the eyes here. The short explanation for all this confusion is that Microsoft is gearing up to refine its platform for a fresh new decade. This means changing up how Windows is developed and tested, as well as on what hardware devices it is made available on.
The result of all this is that we have the left the early days of Windows 10 behind us — the days when new features were revealed regularly, new options leaked out every now and then, and when every week served up new surprises.
Now, Windows 10 Mobile is no more, and in its stead, we have the intriguing new Windows 10X on the horizon. Windows RT also reached a dead end, and now we find Microsoft dead set on making the Windows on ARM platform a success.
You can make a case that the more things change, the more they stay the same. And you won’t be wrong. But fact is, Microsoft is planning some big undertakings. And these are moves that require a lot of manpower, a lot of maneuvering.
A shift in Schedule
One thing Microsoft really changed up, was the way it tested and delivered Windows 10 features updates. There were some unprecedented developments in how the OS was developed, including really tiny feature updates, and Insiders skipping two versions ahead at once. We’ll go over these briefly below, but the important takeaway is that an awful lot has been happening behind the curtains.
Reportedly, Microsoft wants to align its Windows 10 development with Azure, for some reason.
This change in strategy comes a little over two years after the previous one, where the Redmond actually officially announced its intention to align the release schedules for feature updates to Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus. It was also back then that the firm committed to a predictable feature release schedule of twice per year. Not that this was anything new — save for 2016 that only saw the Anniversary Update, Windows 10 has been getting two major refreshes every fiscal year, which for the company starts in July.
It is for this reason that we got a minor update for the second half of 2019 recently, in the form of the Windows 10 November 2019 Update. A big one is still scheduled for launch sometime in 2020. But there are signals that the 20H1 release is also close to being finalized, and may be signed off for public release as early as December.
As in next month!
With all that done, the Windows 10 development schedule will be altered entirely. And from here on, future H1 updates will be ready in December, and H2 updates will hit RTM status in June. This naturally means that Windows 10X will be ready for action around this time, for foldable and dual-screen devices that will hit store shelves in the fall, like the Surface Neo.
All this is being done to bring some clarity into the development of Windows 10, even if it means that the recent releases have been low on the good stuff. The only thing that remains unclear is whether the Office 365 schedule will also change with Windows 10, as Microsoft promised back in 2017.
But that’s a question for another day.
Is this trip really necessary?
The question for today, though, is Microsoft’s current trajectory. What is the point of the 19H2 release if they have already changed their update schedule? Why not go in with the 20H1, particularly as it nears a December completion?
Could they not have scrapped the November 2019 Update altogether?
There are a few reasons for this — primarily centered around the businessfolks. Business users needed something to upgrade their devices to. And considering how stable version 1909 is, it is a good target for the enterprise and education userbase to upgrade their computers with this release. Older versions of Windows 10 that have reached end-of-life, or are about to, will find this an excellent release to jump to. And the same holds true for the hundreds of millions of Windows 7 users, as their platform reaches end-of-support status come January next year.
Worth a mention that all H2 releases for business users rocking the Enterprise and Education variants of Windows 10 have an extended 30 months support window, compared to the normal 18 months for H1 releases and Home and Pro versions.
And besides, it’s not like the 20H1 is coming out the gates tomorrow.
Even if this version reaches the RTM status in December, Microsoft will very likely keep testing and fixing the bugs for a few more months to really roll out a polished release. Insiders may get in early, but a February or early March general availability is a solid bet.
Speaking of, equally interesting things are happening over at the Windows Insider Program, which remains a pillar of Windows 10 development.
Over at the Insiders hut
Some say that the Windows Insider Program has become too big for its own good. What started off as a way to open up the development of the OS to the masses has faced (rather justified) criticism as of late. The earlier enthusiasm has faded away, with Microsoft faithful becoming disillusioned with this preview program.
To make matters worse, the Redmond based company has faced significant challenges with the overall quality of its build releases. Originally, there were supposed to be only two rings — Fast and Slow. But it did not take long for the latter to become completely barren. Microsoft engineers and Insiders, both, primarily focused on the Fast track. Throw in the Skip Ahead channel, and you have got a mess.
Result? The quality of Windows 10 and its monthly patches has been all over the place lately.
Thing are changing, though.
Just last month, Dona Sarkar, the head of the Windows Insider Program stepped away from the preview program. Microsoft has not yet announced who will replace her, but it had become clear that Dona was not the person to shepherd the program and brings out its true value.
Change was needed.
The Windows 10X affair
Another change, that you may say is needed, is coming in the form of Windows 10X. Rumors of this new variant of Windows have been around since last year, where it was referred to as Windows Lite. Based on Windows Core OS, this is basically the modularization of the different components of the operating system.
The idea is to create something that is not only simple and modern, but also does not suffer from the limitations that Windows 10 proper has to deal with — as in servicing.
Microsoft demoed its new software and hardware last month at its annual hardware event, showing how apps run on Windows 10, how it uses containers for Win32 software, and how this OS seamlessly updates itself in the background.
Technically, this is not a separate OS, just a different shell. Yet, at the same time, while the core and most of the stuff shares similarity with Windows 10, it is billed as a completely different beast. Not only does it come with a new user interface and improved feature set, it also promises to usher in a completely new breed of devices and form factors when it arrives on the scene in 2020.
Starting with the impressive Surface Neo.
Add two and two together, and it is possible to paint a picture of where Windows 10 development currently is, and where Microsoft wants it to go. The company clearly wants to do things right this time, as its operating platform enters a new decade.
Sure, that involves releasing updates like the November 2019 Update that are basically just an enablement package that flip on some new features in the OS. By some estimates, this is just 4MB in size, much smaller than even cumulative updates that are release for Windows 10.
Sure, this also involves redefining how the Windows Insider Program functions, and how it can be simplified to better engage the community the way it was meant to.
And sure, it involves putting a substantial amount of weight and effort behind expansive ventures like Windows on ARM and Windows 10X, both of which could be the harbinger of new types and category of hardware devices.
Yet, at the same time, this company-wide effort will require Microsoft to go beyond just shifting release schedules of its Windows 10 feature updates or aligning development of Azure, Office 365 and Windows together.
It will require much more.
They say that there is never a dull moment in the world of Windows. The ecosystem Microsoft has created ensures that. Yet, at the same time, this last year very much felt like a lull. Those of you keen on new features, will have to wait until the 20H2 release, for these are interesting times.