When Windows 10 was announced, it was said to be the last version of Windows. The suggestion was that Windows 10 would be similar to macOS X - a single marketing version that would instead be separated by its minor version numbers. Rather than a 3-year development cycle with a new major version released in that window, the operating system would move to a biannual minor release cycle. However, with Windows 11, Microsoft seemed to change course, leaving us with questions about the future of the company's release plans.
This week, a report from Windows Central suggests that the company is moving to a hybrid approach. Gone are the old plan with major releases every three years and minor security updates throughout the rest of the lifecycle, and the new plan of biannual feature releases. In their stead will be a new approach - returning the 3-year major version release cycle and shortening the 6-month feature releases schedule to as frequent as new feature releases every 3 months.
Benefits for Microsoft
Previously, it was believed that there could be major version updates annually, perhaps without any of the intermediate feature updates. There are a lot of benefits to this revised schedule, however. For Microsoft, the biggest benefit of the longer major version schedule is it gives the company more time to perfect the major changes to the operating system, which often come along with big changes to the internals as well as the interaction.
The company has struggled with perfecting its bigger version updates on the tighter, One Windows release cycle. We've seen issues with nearly every Windows 10 release that included major feature updates or changes under the hood. However, by extending those updates to a 36-month cycle, they should have more opportunities not to release these issues to the public.
Benefits to IT
The extended major version cycle will also be appealing to IT departments that were always hesitant to roll out the biannual Windows 10 feature updates for fear of them introducing major changes that could undermine security procedures or even introduce incompatibilities to existing infrastructure and software. However, if the shorter updates will be constrained to just new features and major work will be extended to major versions, this could mean that a work-issued laptop could be kept more up to date than most organizations allow today.
If this altered release schedule comes to fruition, it would mean that Microsoft's next version of Windows (codenamed Next Valley and likely to be called Windows 12) will release some time in 2024. It also likely means that Sun Valley 3, the next visual update to Windows 11, which was intended to be released in 2023, is dead on the floor. Those changes will be rolled into Next Valley instead, while some of the smaller features might make an appearance in an intermediary feature update. These smaller updates could be more in line with the weather taskbar button replacement for the widget button introduced earlier in the year for Windows 11.