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Ballmer at Build: 'Rapid Release, Rapid Release'

Windows 8.1 is coming fast on the heels of Windows 8 -- for a Microsoft update, at least.

Microsoft released a preview of Windows 8.1 yesterday, a scant seven months after the release of Windows 8, with a final version of Windows 8.1 coming as a free upgrade from Windows 8 later this year.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, for one, wanted to make sure the 6,000 developers at Microsoft's Build show, and the 60,000 people watching Build online, took note of that speed.

"If there's not one other message that I reach you with in my opening remarks, it's about the transformation that we are going through as a company to move to an absolutely rapid-release cycle -- rapid release, rapid release," Ballmer said.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on stage at Wednesday's opening Build keynote. (Source: Microsoft)

To be sure, Windows 8.1 is not a Windows-7-to-Windows-8-scale transition, or even a Windows-Vista-to-Windows-7-class update. Julie Larson-Green, corporate vice president of Windows Engineering, defined Windows 8.1 as a refinement that brings about 800 changes to the operating system. The changes, Larson-Green said, "address everything from performance, efficiency, to the look and feel and new features in the product. We designed 8.1 to feel natural [on] everything from the new mini small tablets up to large, powerful work stations." (Click here for more details on the changes in Windows 8.1.)

Even though it's not a lot of feature change on a Microsoft OS scale, it's a lot of updates for Microsoft to jam through an OS release process that used to last about three years.

It's another example of the way Apple, and then Google, have shocked Microsoft into action. Just as the iPad's near-instant-on finally scared Microsoft and its OEM partners into really prioritizing that capability, the fast cycle of iterative feature releases Apple adopted with iOS is finding its way into the Windows release cycle.

Ballmer promised attendees that the release cycle was not a one-time thing, and used the opportunity to make sure Microsoft partners understood their role in the new cycle. "We're certainly going to show you Windows 8.1 today. But you can think of that, in a sense, as the new norm for everything we do," he said. "For Windows releases, in addition to what we're doing with devices through our partners, what we're doing with Azure and Office 365, rapid-release cadence is absolutely fundamental to what we're doing and, frankly, to the way we need to mobilize our ecosystem of hardware and software development partners."

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 27, 2013


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