What Are Microsoft “Flights” And “Flighting”?

There is a term that I’ve heard for a while when talking to Microsoft program managers, and it has started to be used publicly by Microsoft staff. I read it on a post by Ben Armstrong:

If you are already on 10049 and have not yet enabled Hyper-V, you can either follow the above steps, or hang tight while we work on the next flight!

Rick Claus also used the term in the latest episode of the Ignite Countdown show.

Like all cloud services, in case you don’t know, this is what we’re doing with regards to flighting new things into it.

Microsoft’s Gabe Aul also explained the term in a Blogging Windows post on March 18th:

… we’ll have some weeks where we expect builds to flow out (we call them “flighting windows”) and some where we’ll hold back

And the term was also used by Aul when he explained the frequency of builds for Windows Insiders:

… we’d have a candidate build, and we’d flight that out broadly within MS to make sure we could find any gotchas …

So what are they talking about? You’ve probably heard that Windows 10, when it RTMs, isn’t “finished”. In fact, it’ll probably never be a finished product in the view of Microsoft until they release Windows 11 (if there is one). Microsoft will be updating this OS on a regular basis, adding new functionality. I know we’ve heard that sort of thing before, but it’s real this time. Windows Insiders are seeing it now, and the reality is that Microsoft development process was changed quite a bit after Windows 8.1 to make this possible. We know from TEE14 that the same happened to Windows Server to make it work more seamlessly with Azure.

This approach is taken from cloud computing and lightweight phone/tablet OSs:

  • You release a block of code that is developed and tested to a stable point.
  • There is a stack rank of additional features and changes that you wanted to implement but didn’t have the person-hours to complete.
  • You get feedback and that modifies the stack rank.
  • The market changes and more features are added to the stack rank
  • You code/test some new stuff over a short period and release it

This release is a flight and the process is flighting. It’s just another way of saying “release”. I guess, “release” in a devs mind is a big irregular event, whereas a flight is something that happens on a regular basis.

In the Microsoft world, we see flights all the time with Azure and quite frequently with SaaS such as O365 and Intune. Windows is moving this way too. The result is you get a regular improvement of the product instead of every 1,2, or 3 years. Microsoft can be more responsive to feedback and change. Consumers will love this. Businesses will get control over the updates, but I suspect, as we saw with the April 2014 update (AKA “Update 1”) that came into force in August 2014, there will be a support baseline update every now and then to ease the difficult for Microsoft on supporting Windows.

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