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Microsoft weighs up automatic quarterly updates to Office

A new tidbit from Kurt DelBene, president of Microsoft's Office Division, indicates that the company might be considering moving to an every-three-month update cycle for the client version of Office 2013.

DelBene's comments, mentioned at the Morgan Stanley Technology Conference last week, indicate that Microsoft definitely has the capabilities to provide more frequent updates for the client version of Microsoft Office in a manner similar to how it has roughly been updating the cloud-based Office service, Office 365.

"We already have the mechanisms in place to update the [Office 365] service on a quarterly basis," said DelBene. "With the client subscription...we'll have the ability to do that with client business as well, the desktop version of Office."

The increased frequency of updates to Office, in general, has been a feature teased by Microsoft in its attempts to convince users more familiar with a "pay once, use forever" setup that they should switch over to Office 365's annual subscription plans.

Analysts, speaking to Computerworld's Gregg Keizer, are of a few different trains of thought regarding DelBene's comments. Some believe that Microsoft's suggestions indicate that the company is at least planning to switch over to a more frequent update cycle for Office 2013, but this aspirational goal is just that versus a set-in-stone quarterly update cycle. Others point out that Microsoft's updates could be relatively minor changes and tweaks to the client Office apps themselves instead of large-scale software refreshes – a move DelBene himself ended up hinting at.

"I think it will get us to a point where we have a major-minor cadence, because there are some investments that have to happen that require a great deal of forward investment," DelBene said. "When you're structurally changing the underpinnings of Exchange, or SharePoint, or the Office applications, those take a while to develop. And so I think we'll get into the short cycle where we can add more features, but then we'll have a longer cycle where we really have to intensively change underpinnings of the services."

That assumes, of course, that Microsoft plans to make sweeping changes in its core suite of Office apps on a regular basis – perhaps, like before, Microsoft will keep the Office 2013 brand for its most recent version of the app and instead litter it with updates that might otherwise have been seen in, say, an Office 2014 or an Office 2015.

And it also remains to be seen if organisations and enterprise customers will themselves be able to adopt to a speedier upgrade cycle. Or, if they'll use management tools to delay Microsoft's updates until such time that they can be proven to integrate seamlessly into the companies' existing structures and software systems.