Microsoft is getting aggressive with Windows release dates, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s going to put a damper on future sales.
Windows 8 is coming out in August, which was a poorly kept secret anyway. That can’t be helping Windows 7 sales, but at this point I think Microsoft is mostly concerned about new computer sales and corporate sales. What’s more concerning to me–initially–is the revelation that Windows 9 will be out in November 2014.
A lot of people are going to skip one or two of these versions. At least that’s my initial reaction.
So I decided to look at when other versions of Windows appeared.
I suspect Microsoft has written off the people who are still running Windows XP. Most people don’t upgrade anyway; they buy a new copy of Windows when they buy a new computer.
Let’s look back at historical release dates, first for 16/32-bit Windows and then for the Windows NT family:
Windows 2.1: May 1988
Windows 3.0: May 1990
Windows 3.1: Apr 1992
Windows 95: Aug 1995
Windows 98: Jun 1998
Windows ME: Sep 2000
Windows NT 3.1: Jul 1993
Windows NT 3.5: Sep 1994
Windows NT 3.51: May 1995
Windows NT 4.0: Aug 1996
Windows 2000: Feb 2000
Windows XP: Oct 2001
Windows Vista: Oct 2007
Windows 7: Oct 2009
Windows 8: Aug 2012 (projected)
Windows 9: Nov 2014 (projected)
It’s surprising how often they’ve been able to get by on a 2-year cycle. Windows 3.0 was the first version of Windows that was actually usable, and 3.1 was better. Both of those appeared on a two-year cycle. Both Windows 95 and 98 appeared about a year late, stretching that to a 3-year cycle. Windows ME was, of course, a disaster.
On the NT side, which is more relevant since all modern versions of Windows are based on NT, the historical record is, perhaps, even more surprising. The venerable NT4 appeared 15 months after its predecessor. Windows 2000, which was an ambitious release, took nearly three and a half years to appear. The ageless Windows XP appeared 20 months after 2000. Vista took nearly twice as long as Windows 2000 to appear, and we all know how that went. The much-beloved Windows 7 appeared two years later.
So the question isn’t whether Microsoft can deliver usable versions of Windows in a 2- or 3-year timeframe. They’ve done that before, and the most successful Windows version of all time showed up a mere 20 months after its predecessor did.
The question is whether the computing world has changed since 2001. All of the versions of Windows prior to Windows 2000 had serious shortcomings. They were better than their predecessors, but part of what drove those sales was the promise of escape from that flawed predecessor. Windows XP succeeded because it was the successor to the enraging Windows ME, and proved to be the first version of Windows that worked really well for both home and business use. It worked well enough that tens of millions–if not hundreds of millions–of people just yawned when Vista came out. And tens of millions continued to yawn after Windows 7.
And I think Windows 7 will have a similar cult following. Some will flock to Windows 8 when it comes out–we may even see people waiting in line at the stroke of midnight to buy it, which isn’t something that always happens for a Microsoft operating system–but non-enthusiasts who just want something that works will stick with Windows 7 for as long as it continues to work, like what happened with XP.
So I’m not convinced that returning to a release cycle of 24-36 months is necessarily a cure-all that will get Microsoft’s mojo back and bring its stock price out of the doldrums. But I’m even less convinced it’s the sure-fire formula for a train wreck that it first appears to be.