So long Patch Tuesday. Microsoft has shifted course in Windows 10, introducing a whole new update model. Unlike in previous versions of Windows, all security fixes and optional upgrades will be installed automatically. In Windows 10, you will find patches foisted on all of your devices – PC, mobile phone, tablet – once Microsoft releases them.

Obviously, the keyword is continuous delivery.

Much like Google Docs, Gmail, Microsoft Office 365, SalesForce or Templafy – who are already rolling out updates in a continuous series to bring service improvements to consumer devices more rapidly and efficiently – Windows 10 finally marks Microsoft’s approach to a new, agile form of software development, with version numbers becoming secondary, if not meaningless.

If that turns your idea of software updates upside down, think again – when was the last time you actually took notice of the version of the apps you’re running on your iPad? Have you ever rejected an offered app upgrade on your mobile phone?

If your answer is “hardly ever”, breathe easily – you’re perfectly suited for the new era of enterprise software. Welcome to the world of continuous updates.

Continuous updates replace the concept of next versions

Up until Windows 10, the Microsoft software update model was rather simple.

Every so often, Microsoft rolled out a major version update to Windows. In theory, that OS version remained essentially unaltered for its lifespan, receiving monthly security updates along with periodic non-security bug fixes, usually released through larger service packs. Significant functional changes and enhancements were reserved for the follow-up version.

In practice, Windows releases weren’t static, of course. Each of the versions evolved in the course of its lifecycle, occasionally picking up new features on an ad-hoc basis. Still, the feature development was generally limited. Microsoft’s engineering effort was primarily centered on large, infrequent updates, and for the most part the new features didn’t add much to change the look and feel of Windows.

And then along came Windows 10.

A steady stream of updates: Windows as a Service

At bottom, it’s time to start thinking of Windows as something that won’t see major launches or version rollouts any longer. Much like how Google Chrome or any other web-based service, such as Office 365 or Gmail, are updated regularly with version numbers nobody really cares about (do you?), Windows 10 will automatically update in one continuous flow.

It’s Windows, but not like you know it. It’s Windows as a Service.

In today’s world of constantly being “on” for work, user expectations are more than ever set by device-centric experiences. Complete product cycles need to be measured in months, not years, with updates continuously pushed out to users while keeping the impact of deployment efforts down to zero.

To meet this new brand of demands, Microsoft strikes a new path to software development and delivery, steadily streaming feature updates and security fixes to devices running Windows 10:

  • Once available, feature upgrades automatically install the latest features, experiences, and capabilities. This is pretty much in line with what platforms like Google Chrome and Windows Phone already do to deliver continuous software improvement.
  • Servicing updates include the installation of security fixes along with other crucial updates and are published as needed for any feature upgrades that are still in support.

In the front row: The Microsoft Insider Program

The key to short product cycles while keeping up high quality levels is an innovative approach to software testing that Microsoft has implemented for Windows 10 – the Windows Insider Program.

On the surface, the program looks a lot like Windows beta programs of the past. Yet, it’s something else. Spread across the globe, millions of Windows Insiders test new builds and provide Windows engineers with important feedback regarding how well they are performing in actual use. This approach enables Microsoft to test builds in a significantly wider range of hardware, application, and networking environments than in the past, and to identify issues much faster.

Traditionally, Windows betas were wrapped up when Windows left beta and marketed the new version. After all, there was clearly no necessity to keep running an OS beta version that would essentially remain unchanged until its follow-up version three years later. With Windows 10, it’s different – because it will receive a constant stream of feature updates, it will need a steady stream of beta testing.

If Microsoft holds to their new course, Windows Insiders will surely have their hands full for the years to come. And it’s going to be a fast-paced ride.

Ready to enter the world of continuous updates?