The New Microsoft World of Incremental Releases

We live in a new app world.  Especially as it relates to the Office 365 Cloud and to devices, the days of seeing the product and all it’s features in the product release and then getting fixes in a service pack or two.

Since release of SharePoint 2013, there have been a number of incremental releases to Office 365, but also to the Windows 8 Market Place, the Windows Phone Market Place, iOS App Store, and to the Office & SharePoint Market place

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In this new world, everything is incremental.  At release time you only see part of the story.  The story just continues to build and build.  That’s our new reality.  Simply look at the release of SharePoint 2013.  It was all about getting the platform released, with base level support for devices.  What would come later would be the Windows 8 Apps, the iPhone and iPad apps and even Microsoft’s own integrated apps in the app store.  Even Microsoft’s own SharePoint Newsfeed app was only beta in the app store at time of release.

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In this new world of apps.  We need to get use to seeing things show up over time.  As well, I’m noticing a pattern of releasing first in English and only in the US app store, with UK coming next and then eventually making it’s way out through the top languages and beyond.  My global friends have shown frustration at this perceived preference, but from a pilot perspective and in the new pattern of start incrementally and fix along the way, I think we may be seeing more of what the future looks like. 

New patterns are emerging for how software is released in mobile platforms with Windows Phone first, then Windows Store, then to subsequent platforms like iOS, with last to the market Android and only then when it’s really important.

There is obvious reasons why Microsoft would prefer to release first to the Windows and Microsoft platforms.  That’s the bread and butter, it’s the heart of where Microsoft would prefer users be.  The next few moves are what are really interesting.  How long do you have to wait to see the same mobile app go from Windows Phone to iPhone for example?  6 months?  9 months?

These patterns are still emerging, and at this point there isn’t one VP at Microsoft telling every product group to follow the same pattern.  With the Office team we are seeing some compromise with iOS.  Just like Office for Mac which had a pattern of following a year after release on Windows.  There is a similar pattern of releasing apps to iOS some period of time after the release on Windows.  What is most interesting is the cloud hook.

The Cloud hook basically says, not all users can have Office related new releases.  You first have to prove you’re on board with Microsoft in the cloud.  This isn’t just your regular consumer version of Office in iOS.  You need to prove you’re making the move to the cloud and then you’ll get Office Mobile as you verify your Office 365 subscription.  This is the case with Office Mobile and SkyDrive Pro, the professional edition of SkyDrive which is built into the My Site storage in SharePoint Online.

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As well, Microsoft has been very clear that software in this new world of cloud will first go in the cloud with Office 365 with some later date a release for On Premise.  We see the first example of that in the SharePoint Newsfeed flip to Yammer.  Those with Office 365 who have already been upgraded to SharePoint 2013 in SharePoint Online have the choice to link to Yammer as the Newsfeed in Navigation.  Microsoft has shared in the Yammer roadmap that this will come to On Premise some time later.

I worry that customers will have a hard time keeping up with the releases.  A year ago when I was planning on selling SkyDrive Pro to the business I told them, the platform was ready, but there were a few caveats.  There were incrementally pieces that would need to come.  I explained that current support at the time only supported sync for Windows Desktop for Office 2013, and while I anticipated a client for iOS I had no current support or dates I could share with the business.  8 Months later. I have a much more complete story to share.  SkyDrive Pro now has support for older versions of Office as well as an iPhone app, Win Phone and Windows 8 tablet support.  The story gets more compelling.  The challenge at the time was trying to decide do we fill the gap with a third party mobile solution like Colligo Briefcase, Harmon.ie or SharePlus.  It’s worth understanding the strengths of the third party tools for sure.  Gaps will definitely continue to exist, especially as it relates to encryption and security concerns.

In conclusion, I think it’s important for all to understand the days of 3 year release cycle are gone.  These past few weeks of seeing incremental releases across mobile apps, Windows Surface Apps, and Office 365 updates, and something we need to get use to.  Customers that have learned to ignore the incremental releases need to change their patterns and understand that this new world is all about change.  Change happens a lot more frequently and those that are plugged in will be rewarded.

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