With Windows 8‘s readiness and release timing more clear after the Build Windows conference, the standard thoughts about OS release cycles have started to pop up again. All this Windows 8 news comes hot on the heels of Apple’s OS X Lion release, which received a lot of press but was very much an evolutionary step compared to what Microsoft plans to do with Windows 8. With comparisons like this in mind, Asymco plotted the release cycles of Windows, OS X, iOS, Windows Mobile/Phone, and Android in order to gauge their nimbleness or “turning circles,” as their post puts it.
Windows, as the chart displays, tends to iterate more slowly than other operating systems. There is something to be said for stability but this can be a strategic disadvantage as it means major changes are introduced more slowly and the rebranding that happens from one major release to another (think Vista to Windows 7) takes longer to be completed. A lumbering OS might be nice for IT managers who want to avoid retooling and retraining, but tighter turning circles mean problems can be addressed (relatively) quickly and, on the business side, more operating systems/updates can be sold.
The Windows lines look much worse thanks to the length of time between the releases of XP (“Windows 5″) and Vista (“Windows 6″). The 60+ month span was exacerbated by the sour response to Vista when it came out towards the end of 2006. That said, long cycles like this could lend credence to the thinking of Windows in the workplace, where stability is what matters, and a faster responding operating system at home, where consumers demand new features and all that wonderful, glossy chrome be delivered at as rapid a pace as possible.
On the mobile front the idea of faster release cycles has been taken to an entirely different level. The chart doesn’t plot point changes (say from Android Froyo to Gingerbread) but we understand the rapid succession of these to be a competitive advantage… up until the point that it leads to fragmentation and consumer confusion. In the mobile field it’s more important for the operating systems to respond to one another though, which we can see as resulting in the quick release cycles. It’s also a younger, faster growing field, so it’s understandable how iOS was compelled to pump out five versions (four updates) in four years.
Dediu handily summarizes the situation: “Consumerized devices with over-the-air updates on a 12 month cycle are five times more agile than a traditional corporate Windows desktop.” It may be an apples-to-oranges comparison today but considering that Windows 8 is in many ways a mobile OS this could lead to issues, especially as we see OS X take a similar path. Of course everything changes the day we see iOS land on the MacBook Air…
Ultimately this is largely an academic undertaking and you’ll take from it what you will, but as operating systems and our expectations of them change it’ll be interesting to see what happens with these release cycles. Windows’ Service Packs hardly seems like an appropriate response when people are becoming accustomed to quicker updates and something new always on the horizon.
Read more at Asymco
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