You may have noticed that today’s announcement about the July 29 launch of Windows 10 didn’t include any of the usual details we associate with such milestones. But a later conversation with an executive from one of Microsoft’s key PC maker partners sheds some light, I think, on why the Windows 10 launch isn’t like that of previous Windows versions.
Think about the way things used to be. Each Windows version was developed over a multi-year period, with Microsoft reaching various internal and external milestones over time. Betas and release candidates gave way to developer, business and consumer previews over the years. But we still talked about RTM—the “release to manufacturing”—as well as GA—”general availability,” the time at which customers could get their hands on the product.
Between those two final milestones, PC makers would test the new Windows on their PCs, both existing PCs which would be retrofitted with the new system, and on new PCs that were designed specifically for that version. This process would often take two or three months. For example, the last major version of Windows, Windows 8 hit RTM on August 1, 2012, but the product didn’t hit store shelves or new PCs until October 26, 2012, almost three months later.
When I found out about the July 29 release date for Windows 10 late last week, I tried to figure out how Microsoft and its partners would fit the normal RTM-to-GA testing period into the remaining schedule. After all, today is June 1, 2015, and the July 29, 2015 availability date is just two months away. That’s already less time than PC makers had for Windows 8, and Windows 10 is still weeks away from completion (at best).
But Microsoft has tried to make the case, repeatedly, that Windows 10 is different. There’s a lot to that, but sticking with just the release schedule, it’s fair to say that Microsoft—and thus its PC maker partners, too—are indeed now doing things differently.
For example, Windows 10 will be free to users with Windows 7- and 8.1-based PCs during an initial one-year special deal. This morning, I wrote that Windows 10 Release Will Hurt the PC Market This Year because of this giveaway, and you might think that this would be problematic for PC makers. But in a conversation with press, analysts, and bloggers today, Mike Nash, the VP of product strategy and customer experience for HP Personal Systems explained that HP in particular—and presumably PC makers in general—are OK with this change.
Nash said that HP didn’t know about the exact July date all that far in advance, but knowing that Microsoft planned to ship Windows 10 in calendar year 2015 helped the firm plan its own release schedule. And this meant working with Windows 10 all along in the process—including before the public got its first peek last October. This let the company design products for Windows 10 even though some of them would ship with Windows 8.1 before the OS was ready.
Microsoft isn’t just giving away Windows 10, Nash said. They’re also making it easier than ever to upgrade. So when a customer buys an HP PC in 2015, they can rest assured that that PC was designed for Windows 10, and that the upgrade—should they choose to accept it—will just work. With previous Windows versions, PC makers had to create their own custom upgrade kits for new Windows versions. This time, it’s all coming from Microsoft, and PC makers like HP are able to ensure that the driver updates that get delivered through Windows Update are exactly the right drivers for their hardware. (Check out The HP Spectre x360 is What Happens When a PC Maker Collaborates with Microsoft for an overview of how this works in the real world.)
As for that RTM-to-GA period, it’s still not clear when Microsoft will “finalize” (RTM) Windows 10, but it’s also not clear that it really matters. From the perspective of Mr. Nash and others at PC makers, Windows 10 is already a known quantity and is right now far enough along to ensure that the system works with their own hardware.
Nash’s advice to potential PC buyers during this interim time not surprisingly mirrors my own: if you need a PC right now, just buy one now. HP’s PCs, and presumably other PCs, are already designed for Windows 10, and will upgrade seamlessly to the new OS when it’s released, assuming you want that to happen. If you’re wondering about new hardware that will take advantage of new Windows 10 features like Windows Hello in particular, well, Computex is this week. And Nash tipped us that HP will announce some interesting new PCs at the show. So stay tuned.
And if you’re interested in a deeper dive on HP’s perspective on the Windows 10 release, be sure to check out Mike Nash’s post, HP’s Journey to Windows 10. It’s interesting reading, and a good reminder that HP has really turned things around when it comes to PCs. Having a version of Windows that makes sense will make those PCs even better.
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