Rumors have been circulating for months that Microsoft is prepping an update called Windows Blue, and chatter has recently suggested not only that the release will include interface tweaks but also that Redmond intends for Blue to galvanize adoption. Blue is essentially vaporware at the moment, based on gossip and tips more than anything Microsoft has said. It's not even clear if Blue is a codename for Windows 9 or some kind of service pack.
Nevertheless, recent rumors published by ZDNet suggest Blue will extend beyond PCs and tablets to other Microsoft platforms, such as Windows Phone 8, SkyDrive and Windows Server. This supports the idea that Microsoft is more interested in laying groundwork for the future than in anything else; the cohesion a multi-platform Blue portends would bring it a few steps closer to an Apple-like ecosystem, and as Johnson remarked, "Apple has the customers everyone wants."
The update is also rumored to initiate a move toward incremental, annual updates that more closely resembles Apple's OS X updates than the multi-year refresh cycles Microsoft has favored in the past. Such a move could position Blue as a de facto Windows 9 in the same sense that OS X Lion is a dramatic leap from earlier OS X versions. It could also mean that Microsoft is done with radical design changes, and that annual upgrades will focus on incremental refinements to the user experience.
Johnson said there's "not a lot of expectation" for Blue among Forrester clients but that the research firm's "perception" is that Microsoft will adopt annual updates. Still, he expressed misgivings about its strategy, even if it was crafted to accommodate soft enterprise sales.
"It's far from proven that people want one device that does everything," he said, adding that convergence devices such as Surface Pro could be too compromised to thrive. "Microsoft may have to recognize that it needs one OS that's fantastic for tablets and another for laptops," he said, though he qualified that it's "too early to know."
Johnson said he'd like to see Microsoft focus on simplicity and ease of deployment, even if it means rethinking Windows again. "I think they're protecting the Windows franchise on desktops in a way that could damage them in the future." He said Microsoft's value will come not from Windows itself but from apps such as Office, which he said should be made available to other platforms.
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