"What would it take to modify the Windows Start menu on every Windows user machine in less than a week?" That’s the question Microsoft is asking itself as it pushes to speed up Windows releases to compete with rivals like Chrome OS, Android, and iOS. In a new job listing, the company is looking for a developer to join the "Windows Mission Control" team to modernize how the operating system is released and delivered to customers.
A fundamental change to the way Windows is updated is on the way
"We are creating a new system that will fundamentally change the way Windows is shipping to put the ecosystem at the center of Windows," reads the job listing. That new system has been in development for some time at Microsoft, with changes on the Windows Phone side that show how the company is transforming core parts of its operating system into separate apps that are updatable through the store. Microsoft has also released Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Update to add more features over the course of the operating system’s short lifecycle, and some recent improvements to Internet Explorer during monthly patch releases. The updates aren't as regular as updating a Start menu every week, but they're a good start.
Alongside this, Microsoft has been delivering operating system updates extremely fast on a device you might not even realize runs Windows: Xbox One. Monthly dashboard updates are commonplace with the Xbox One as Microsoft seeks to improve the features and performance of its latest console, but if you’re a preview program member it goes a step further. During recent weeks Microsoft has been pushing updates to the Xbox One Preview just two or three days after they were built and finalized in Redmond. That’s an incredibly small turnaround time, and it’s almost unheard of at Microsoft outside of shipping emergency security patches.
Xbox One is an encouraging start to fast updates
"We’re able to write new code, send it to our preview program members for testing and feedback, and then release new updates broadly because of how we architected the Xbox One system," explains Microsoft's Richard Irving, who leads the team developing Xbox One updates. "The combination of our vision and roadmap for Xbox One updates with real-time feedback we’re getting from fans has resulted in updates that we’ve been able to build and deploy very quickly."
This rapid pace on the Xbox One side proves that Microsoft has the ability to be agile enough to ship updates as soon as they’re ready. Although providing updates to millions of consoles with identical hardware is different to the endless PC hardware combinations, Microsoft should be able to apply its experience shipping Xbox One updates to Windows and it's something the company is planning for the upcoming "Windows Technical Preview."
Rapid updates might not be ideal for businesses, but they’re largely welcomed by consumers. The pace hasn't been perfect so far though as a number of recent security patches and minor feature updates have been pulled just days after they've been released due to bugs. Google has seen success with regularly updating Chrome, and Apple’s iOS updates bring new features even after big releases ship. The trick for Microsoft will be to strike the perfect balance between speed, security, and the risk of update bugs for Windows 9 and beyond. If that's achievable then it’s easy to imagine a future where the look and feel of Windows could be updated on a monthly or weekly basis.