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Microsoft may be stepping up the delivery pace

With a number of its flagship software products, Microsoft could be making good on promises to roll out new major releases more rapidly.

What's a new year without a new Microsoft road map?

The latest comes from Microsoft itself. It's from a Software Assurance renewal document, a download link to which a tipster of mine sent me. It looks like it's a real Microsoft-authored document, from what I can tell, and seems to date back to mid-2012.

possible Microsoft road map

On first glance, there's nothing very surprising in the document or timelines included in it. All the usual suspects are there: Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, SQL Server 2012, Office 15 (Office 2013), Visual Studio 11 (Visual Studio 2012), etc. A number of the expected successors to these products, with working names/code names, are listed, as well -- including Office 16, Visual Studio 2015, SQL Server 2012 R2 and Exchange Server 2016.

Given that the document seemingly dates back to mid-2012, which was prior to the release to manufacturing of Windows 8, there's absolutely no information about the successor to Windows 8. Even many of Microsoft's largest customers -- not to mention its own OEM partners -- were not and still are not privy to information about Windows near- or longer-term futures.

But still, there are a couple of things worth pondering about this road map.

First, some of the dates are off. Why is Windows Server 2012, which RTM'd in August 2012, shown as a 2013 product? And why is Windows 8 spanning the mid/late 2012 and 2013 time period, when it launched and was made generally available in October 2012? And SQL Server 2012 SP1? It actually RTM'd in September and was made available in November 2012.

One guess: This road map, designated as Microsoft's "plan of main product updates" could be indicating the period when Microsoft officials expect volume-license customers (those at whom a Software Assurance renewal document would be targeted) might be considering/adopting these products. It also could be that this road map included the "can't miss"/underpromise and overdeliver ship targets for which the increasingly secretive Microsoft was becoming known in the past couple of years.

That said, another road map included in the document gave me further pause:

possible Microsoft road map

The inclusion of Expression Studio 6 on here makes me wonder whether the road map authors knew about Microsoft's plans to phase out two of its three Expression design tools, which Microsoft execs acknowledged at the very end of 2012. And Silverlight 6? Yes, there have been rumors that Microsoft might still have one more major Silverlight release up its sleeve. But recent silence on that front has most of us Microsoft watchers believing Silverlight 5 (and a couple of minor updates) is the end of the road for Silverlight.

So, with the caveat that these road maps shouldn't be taken literally and that expected ship/release dates are likely closer than they appear, it's still worth noting that:

  • Windows Server 2012 SP1 should arrive before 2014. (Maybe it will sync up with Windows Blue in the summer of 2013, if previous leaks are right.) Update: Or maybe this piece of information is old/outdated, too. Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Mike Kline posted in October that Microsoft confirmed there is no plan for a SP1 for Windows Server 2012.
  • Office 16/Exchange 16 could be out in 2014 (in spite of these products being referred to as Office 2016/Exchange 2016).
  • SQL Server 2012 R2 could be an early 2014 thing.
  • Visual Studio 2015 -- again, in spite of this supposed/working name -- could be out in 2014.

If these dates, adjusted (unscientifically by me) pan out, Microsoft will be making good on its goal to release new, major versions of its key software products more rapidly. Not dramatically so, mind you. But shaving a number of months or even a year off delivery of full-fledged new releases would be big for Microsoft, its customers, and its partners.

This story originally appeared on ZDNet under the headline "A new year, a new Microsoft roadmap: Stepping up the delivery pace."