Windows has always been on its own extended release cycle. Microsoft releases a new version of the OS, and then develops the next version over the next couple of years. For instance, Windows 7 released three years ago in 2009, and we're only now just seeing the release of Windows 8. That strategy might just change next year.
The Verge reports that Microsoft's next operating system is codenamed Windows Blue. It will launch in mid-2013, and follow an annual release cycle like Apple's OS X.
According to The Verge's sources, Windows Blue will feature a few UI changes, but the real star is the new annual release cycle. That means that Microsoft will be following Apple's footsteps in providing cheap annual updates instead of the usual service packs that extended the lives of previous Windows operating systems. The best part is that the report suggests Microsoft may even offer the Windows Blue annual upgrades for free to ensure everybody is on the same page.
Developers will be affected by the change, however, in that they will no longer be able to build apps specifically for Windows 8. The merging of the Windows 8 and Windows Phone platforms will require developers to build specifically for Windows Blue. That being said, the apps built on Windows 8 will reportedly work on Windows Blue.
The move to an annual release cycle will also help Microsoft cut down on the rampant software piracy that Windows always suffers. Those using a pirated copy of Windows 8 will find that built-in apps and the Windows Store will cease functioning after upgrading to Windows Blue. It does not say if those with pirated copies will be offered a legitimate copy after upgrading, but it seems like the logical choice.
If Windows Blue is real, it will be a refreshing change of pace for the Windows platform. Microsoft needs to speed up iterations of Windows, and this will accomplish just that. It will also help the company stave off increasing competition from Apple and Google - both of which offer operating systems that are frequently updated with new features.