Windows 8 and Software Release Naming Strategies

Last Friday was the long-anticipated release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system.  With a redesigned user interface, touchscreen capabilities and a new app store the Redmond crowd is hoping this will help the company regain its position amongst the cool kids in the IT industry.  Lately Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and Salesforce.com are getting all the attention and credit for innovation.  One thing I found particularly interesting was Microsoft’s choice of names for the release.  Sticking with Windows, I think makes sense, because it has unbeatable brand recognition.  But why call it Windows “8?”

Innovators such as Amazon, Salesforce.com and NetSuite have taken a very different approach to naming their releases.  In fact, most end-users are not aware of the release strategies, because the technology is offered as a service in the cloud.  Upgrades to new versions are not disruptive to the user community. 

Instead of using version numbers such as 7 and 8 (think Windows) or 10i, 11i, 12i (think Oracle) or confusing groups of letters and numbers such as R/3, ECC 6.0 (think SAP), these cloud companies name their releases based upon on the calendar year. 

For example, Salesforce.com has announced two to three major releases per year for the past decade.  Each release is named after the season in which it is issued (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall) and the year. 

Spring 04
Summer 04
Winter 04

Summer 05
Winter 05

Summer 06
Winter 06

Spring 07
Summer 07
Winter 07

Spring 08
Summer 08
Winter 08

Spring 09
Summer 09

Winter 10
spring 10

Winter 11
Spring 11
Summer 11

Winter 12
Spring 12
Summer 12

While the simplicity and consistency of Salesforce.com’s release naming strategy is admirable, it does raise several questions for me.  For example, do customers in the Southern hemisphere receive the spring releases six months later than those up North?  And if the Groundhog does sees his shadow, does that mean that Spring releases are delayed by six weeks?

Amazon.com also bases its release schedule on calendar dates, but avoids the issue of seasons.  Each release is named after the exact calendar date upon which it was launched.

  • Amazon Virtual Private Cloud on 2012-10-18
  • Amazon EC2 on 2012-10-14
  • Amazon RDS on 2012-10-11
  • Amazon S3 on 2012-10-04
  • Amazon Elastic MapReduce on 2012-10-04
  • Amazon Simple Email Service on 2012-10-03
  • AWS Elastic Beanstalk on 2012-10-02
  • Amazon CloudFront on 2012-09-27
  • Amazon CloudWatch on 2012-12-02

Netsuite offers another case study of calendar-based naming.  They avoid the seasons issue by simply referring to releases as 1, 2, 3, etc in a particular year. 

  • Version 2012 Release 2 (July 2012)
  • Version 2012 Release 1 (January 2011)
  • Version 2011 Release 2 (August 2011)
  • Version 2011 Release 1 (March 2011)
  • Version 2010 Release 2
  • Version 2010 Release 1

Ironically, it was Microsoft that first introduced the calendar based naming strategy back in the 1990s.  Remember Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows 2000?  There was a period of almost 10 years in which all of Microsoft’s desktop and server-based products were based upon a calendar year.  The running joke in the industry is that the company abandoned the naming approach, because it was struggling to meet the deadlines necessary to get the products out during the named year.

Of course, Windows is a software product that runs on PC.  And most software companies continue to use version numbers in their release naming (rather than years).  So Microsoft’s naming strategy is not really inconsistent with its peer group.  However, one cannot help but notice that the differences in naming strategies between cloud and software companies is indicative of the vastly different approaches between these two camps.

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