Windows Marketing 101

If Redmond could get 'out-of-band' features out to users in a quicker and easier way, it would go a long way to solving one of its biggest problems.

From a marketing standpoint, Microsofts worst nightmare, re: Windows XP, has come to pass. Just when the Redmond software giant looked like it might be building some momentum for Windows XP, word leaked of a possible interim release between XP and Longhorn.


Read More on the Rumored Shorthorn Here

Think this through: If you are one of those holdouts (either a corporate customer or a SOHO/end user) still relying on Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME or Windows 2000, why would you make the move to XP now? If Microsoft is poised to come out with something newer, better, fresher and "Reloaded" in the next few months, why would you even consider upgrading to XP, an operating system introduced in 2001?

Many of Microsofts marketing problems with both Windows client and server center around a concept known as "out-of-band." Out-of-band refers to new features and functionality that the company introduces between the time an operating-system feature set is frozen, and the time the next version ships. Example on the server side: Active Directory Application Mode. Example on the client side: Windows Media Player 10.

Microsoft seems to be stymied as to how best to get out-of-band features into users hands. Should the company use service packs (which are supposed to be primarily a vehicle for bug fixes) to deliver new features? Should it go with more interim updates? Simply make the new functionality available for download by interested parties? Or follow its current course, and try to pack as many new features into each Windows release as possible, insuring ever fatter and later Windows upgrades for the foreseeable future?

Back in the 1990s, Microsoft was talking about making Windows service packs available to customers on a quarterly basis. Needless to say, that has not happened. At the current rate, Microsoft is lucky to deliver a service pack every 12 months.

This is a problem Redmond needs to solve. And soon.

My suggestion? Why not get on the "software train," a la Sun Microsystems. While, Sun is no software company, on this front, it seems to have its act in gear.

In Sun parlance, the software train is a way to deliver to customers in a more timely fashion the latest patches, fixes and new Solaris features in between full-fledged operating-system updates. The trains run once a quarter, and they always run on time, Sun says.

Sun went a step further last fall, by introducing its Software Express program. Via Software Express, the trains run more frequently: every 30 days. Sun is claiming these updates are of beta quality or better, and will be delivered (like the trains) as a full refresh of Solaris, not just as patches to be applied atop it.

Not everyone will want or need 12 updates a year. But for those who need a particular fix or feature pronto, Sun plans to make it available for no charge for non-commercial use, or for an annual subscription fee of $99 (for commercial rights to use).


What Is Software Express?

While its true that Microsoft provides its resellers, Microsoft Developer Network subscribers and volume licensees with selected beta and final releases of its products on its price list on a regular basis (quarterly for MSDNers; monthly for Select and Enterprise Agreement licensees), this is a far cry from what Sun is doing.

What do you think Microsoft should do to get out-of-band features into users hands more quickly and easily? Should Microsoft adopt a train-like model? Increase the frequency of service packs? Or do you have a better solution?

Write me at and let me know what you think.