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The 2019 Microsoft Product Roadmap
Posted by Thang Le Toan on 08 April 2019 03:23 AM
From the next major update to Windows 10 to the next generation of HoloLens, here's what's on tap from Microsoft this year.
RECENTLY UPDATED: Windows 10 (4/5), Dynamics 365 (4/5), Visual Studio 2019 (4/2), System Center 2019 (3/29)
Microsoft is widely expected to release the next major version of Windows 10, thought to be version 1903 and code-named "19H1," in April 2019. The desktop operating system follows a biannual (or "semiannual") upgrade release cycle, with major OS "feature updates" arriving in the spring and fall. Microsoft offers Windows 10 as both a semiannual channel Windows as a Service product, and as a more traditional long-term servicing channel product where new updates arrive every two or three years.
Preview builds of Windows 10 19H1 have been rolling out to users enrolled in the Windows Insider program since July 2018. Besides minor feature additions and some tweaks to the UI, a couple of more significant changes have come to light, including the brand-new "Windows Sandbox." Expected to be part of the Pro and Enterprise editions of Windows 10, Sandbox is described by Microsoft as a walled-off computing environment where users can run new apps in isolation, keeping the rest of their PC protected. "Any software installed in Windows Sandbox stays only in the sandbox and cannot affect your host," Microsoft said in its announcement. "Once Windows Sandbox is closed, all the software with all its files and state are permanently deleted."
Another new capability expected in Windows 10 19H1 is the "Reserved Storage" feature, which will set aside about 7GB of a PC's disk space for new Windows 10 updates. This reserved space will help ensure that applications are able to properly run after an OS update, according to Microsoft.
"Without reserved storage, if a user almost fills up her or his storage, several Windows and application scenarios become unreliable. Windows and application scenarios may not work as expected if they need free space to function. With reserved storage, updates, apps, temporary files, and caches are less likely to take away from valuable free space and should continue to operate as expected," the company said in a January blog post announcing the feature.
Beyond the spring release, Microsoft is expected to roll out the year's second Windows 10 feature update around October. A report by veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley suggested that Microsoft may break with tradition regarding this second release's code name, calling it "Vanadium" instead of the expected "19H2." At any rate, the earliest public test builds of this second release are expected to appear in the early part of 2019 as development for Windows 10 19H1 wraps up. [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
As of this writing, the next major version of Windows Server is three test builds in, the first build having arrived back in November 2018. Like its desktop OS counterpart, Windows Server gets "feature updates" on a biannual (or "semiannual") release cadence, which go by version numbers. There's also a long-term servicing channel product option, where new upgrades arrive every two or three years.
Microsoft also releases a more traditional Windows Server product. Windows Server 2019, released back in October 2018, was the last such product. It doesn't get OS upgrades as frequently as the vNext semiannual product offering. The name and timing of the next traditional Windows Server product hasn't been announced.
Organizations can expect the first Windows Server vNext feature update release, perhaps version 1903, to arrive sometime in the spring (likely in April, coinciding with the release of Windows 10 19H1). A second feature update release is planned for the fall.
Outside of Microsoft's perfunctory release notes for each Windows Server vNext test build, the company thus far hasn't spotlighted any major changes or improvements to expect. Microsoft did hint at "new innovations in networking" when it issued test build 18298 in December, but said further details won't come until "the early new year."
The last test build as of this writing, build 18317, also spotlighted a new feature that enables organizations "to support multiple CI [code integrity] policies." [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
The "2019"-branded iteration of the System Center management suite is due sometime in the first quarter of the year, according to a Microsoft document (PDF download).
System Center is a suite of eight products, called "components," that consist of Configuration Manager, Data Protection Manager, Operations Manager, Orchestrator, Service Manager, Service Management Automation, Virtual Machine Manager, and Service Provider Foundation. Microsoft delivers major updates to System Center on a biannual (or "semiannual") basis in the spring and fall, a practice that started for the whole suite with the release of System Center version 1801 last year, although the Configuration Manager component is an exception in that it gets major updates three times per year. A long-term servicing channel version of the product, which gets new "feature updates" every two or three years, is also available.
System Center 2019 will incorporate "[n]ew features and enhancements including integration, support and alignment with Windows Server 2019," according to the Microsoft document. It'll also include "[s]torage optimization and improvements to RBAC [role-based access control] in VMM [Virtual Machine Manager]."
Microsoft's Q1 release of System Center 2019 will be the first long-term serving channel release of the product, according to a detailed blog post by Microsoft MVP Thomas Maurer. It'll bring greater integration between servers and Microsoft's Azure datacenters with coming "hybrid cloud" improvements, he noted. [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
As of last July, Dynamics 365, Microsoft's enterprise resource planning solution, became another Microsoft product on a twice-yearly "feature update" schedule. The first of these updates, scheduled to be released on April 5 (following a Feb. 1 preview), will be a big one.
The April 5 "general availability" release of Dynamics 365 will be "the first major update where all of our customers across Dynamics 365 will be on the latest version and on a consistent update schedule," Microsoft explained in an announcement at the end of 2018. "It's also a template of how major updates will be done going forward in April and October every year."
Microsoft's release notes for this so-called "April '19 update" of Dynamics 365 became available just last month as a massive 315-page .PDF that the company plans to update in February as more features emerge. Already, the document lists "hundreds of new capabilities" coming in the April '19 update, including mixed reality and artificial intelligence enhancements across the entire suite.
The update will also integrate Dynamics 365 with Microsoft's Power Platform, which combines the company's various business analytics services -- namely PowerApps, Power BI and Flow. This integration will let Dynamics 365 users "build higher-quality reports, apps, and workflows more easily, while still supporting more advanced enterprise and administrator requirements," according to Microsoft. [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
It's been well over two years since the last major release of Microsoft's enterprise integration server, BizTalk Server, became available. The next generation of the product is due sometime in mid-2019, based on the broad timeframe that Microsoft gave in an August 2018 announcement. At that time, Microsoft indicated that it would release BizTalk Server "vNext" about nine months after Windows Server 2019.
The official launch of Windows Server 2019 came in October 2018 (though problems with the update caused Microsoft to subsequently pull the product and then rerelease it about a month later). That would put BizTalk Server's release somewhere after the mid-point of 2019.
Microsoft so far hasn't revealed much about its plans for BizTalk Server vNext, though its August 2018 blog post did indicate that it "will contain all previously released feature packs, platform support for the latest versions of Windows Server, SQL Server and Visual Studio, as well as a supported upgrade path from BizTalk Server 2013 R2 and 2016." The new release will have also "vNext" versions of the BizTalk Adapter Pack and Microsoft's Host Integration Server (HIS). [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
Microsoft first signaled that the next major release of Visual Studio was in the works back in the summer of 2018, soon after it acquired the open source code repository GitHub. Visual Studio 2019 is expected to be released sometime in the first half of 2019, roughly two years after the last current flagship version, Visual Studio 2017, rolled out.
As of this writing, Microsoft has released two preview versions of Visual Studio 2019, the first in late 2018 and the second in January 2019. According to reporting by our sister site, VisualStudioMagazine.com, the new release will include (among other things) AI-enhanced coding capabilities via the IntelliCode feature, improvements to the UI and collaboration capabilities, and enhancements to the "core IDE experience." It will also incorporate improvements aimed at Python, C# and mobile .NET developers. [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
The successor to Microsoft's Team Foundation Server (TFS) product, Azure DevOps Server 2019, had its first release candidate back in November 2018 and its second just this January. That second release candidate is the product's last before becoming generally available, Microsoft said at the time, so its likely that the production-ready version of Azure DevOps Server 2019 will roll out sometime in the first quarter.
Among the product's key features are a new UI based on Microsoft's Fluent design philosophy, integration with SQL Server and support for the Azure Pipelines automated development service. [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
It's still early days for Microsoft's next-gen database platform. SQL Server 2019's first public outing was at the 2018 Ignite conference last fall, when Microsoft made it available as a Community Technology Preview (CTP). As of this writing, Microsoft has issued just one other CTP build back in December. Though Microsoft hasn't given a definitive timeline for release, it's fair to say that SQL Server 2019 likely won't hit the general availability milestone until later in 2019 -- perhaps November, to coincide with the 2019 Ignite event.
Microsoft has a lot of enhancements planned for SQL Server 2019, a big one being SQL Server Big Data clusters. SQL Server expert and Redmond columnist Joey D'Antoni described Big Data clusters as "a scale-out, data virtualization platform built on top of the Kubernetes (K8s) container platform." Also new to SQL Server 2019 is a feature called Accelerated Database Recovery (ADR), which expedites the process of undoing and rolling back database transactions.
Improvements are also coming to SQL Server's Always On Availability Group stack and the Always Encrypted security solution, as well as overall database performance. Microsoft is also promising support for Apache Spark and the Hadoop Distributed File System, as well as the ability to deploy Python- and R-based applications on clusters. [BACK TO PRODUCT LIST]
It's been roughly four years since Microsoft first debuted HoloLens, its augmented reality headset, which is being positioned as an industrial diagnostic tool on top of being a gaming peripheral. HoloLens was ground-breaking technology at the time, but as the rest of the industry caught up with other mixed-reality, virtual-reality and 3-D platforms and devices, that first-generation headset is now, as Redmondmag.com columnist Brien Posey put it, "starting to show its age."
Microsoft now appears set to unveil version 2 of HoloLens sometime in the first half of 2019. Possibly, it'll make an appearance at the Mobile World Congress event in late February, per some reports.
Details are scant about Microsoft's HoloLens 2 plans. However, Microsoft did confirm at its 2018 Build conference that it is resurrecting its old Kinect motion-sensing device with plans to turn it into an intelligent camera for the new HoloLens (among other use cases).
Microsoft has also described its work around developing an improved "holographic processing unit" for HoloLens that will leverage AI to process deep neural networks. Reports also suggested that the new device will run on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 850 system-on-a-chip
2018 Roadmap Archive
• Windows 10
Microsoft's semiannual release schedule for Windows 10 is less of a novelty now than it was back in 2015, when Microsoft ushered in the OS under a new "as-a-service" model. Three years and five version updates later, Microsoft is expected to stick to an update model it nailed down last year, with one major update release coming in the first half of the year (usually spring) and another in the second (usually fall).
The first major update, code-named "Redstone 4," has been in the works since August 2017, when the first preview build was made available to Windows Insider testers. Based on each subsequent build's release notes, Redstone 4 looks to be focused largely on feature refinements and usability improvements. There's more support for fonts and languages. The touch keyboard and handwriting features are constantly getting improvements, along with the Edge browser and the Windows Shell. New connectivity and power management enhancements are in the works. And with each build, Microsoft is activating more fluent design components.
There are a couple of brand-new additions, too. In the works for Redstone 4 is a new "Near Share" feature that lets Windows 10 users exchange files with PC users in their vicinity via Bluetooth. Microsoft is also reinstating the "Timeline" feature, which had originally been slated to appear in last October's Fall Creators Update. Timeline essentially lets Windows 10 users keep a record of their recent activities in any given app, making it easier to resume a task when they pull up that app again. And in a more recent build, Microsoft debuted a privacy app called "Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer" that gives users and administrators a better handle on the kinds of telemetry data that Microsoft collects from Windows 10 devices.
Redstone 4 will be followed by another release code-named "Redstone 5" in the later part of 2018. This early in the year, it might be too early to forecast exactly what Microsoft has planned for this second release, though there's at least one feature that Microsoft has already bumped from Redstone 4 and into Redstone 5. "Sets," which first cropped up last November in a Redstone 4 build, is a workspace-management interface that revolves around tabs. Microsoft described Sets as a way "to make sure that everything related to your task: relevant webpages, research documents, necessary files and applications, is connected and available to you in one click." Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it was pulling Sets from future Redstone 4 builds, though it will restore the feature in a "post-RS4 flight." Presumably, that means Redstone 5.
For those waiting for future Windows Mobile/Windows Phone developments, however, don't hold your breath. Microsoft's mobile efforts have been stagnating for some time now, but a Tweet earlier this year from Senior Program Manager Brandon LeBlanc put another nail in the coffin: "No mobile builds are coming." [BACK TO 2018 PRODUCT LIST]
Barely a year old, Teams is already being positioned by Microsoft as an integral piece of its enterprise collaboration portfolio. The Office 365 chat service launched last March as Microsoft's answer to the popular collaboration startup, Slack. Since then, Microsoft has taken significant steps to bolster Teams' enterprise bona fides through regular updates, providing IT management tools, mobile app support, integration with popular third-party apps like Dropbox and Google Drive, and a "guest access" feature that lets users collaborate with members of outside organizations. Microsoft has also been stumping for Teams in the academic space, offering it to schools through the no-cost Office 365 for Education plan, and rolling out UI features designed specifically for students and teachers.
Now, Microsoft plans to advance Teams even further by making it the company's primary unified communications (UC) offering, effectively replacing Skype for Business. Microsoft first announced the planned transition last September at the Ignite conference, calling the move part of its "new vision for intelligent communications." That vision entails Teams inheriting Skype's voice calling and meeting capabilities, as well as AI and machine learning capabilities via the Microsoft Graph, while running on Skype's infrastructure for the back-end.
Those Skype calling capabilities became available in Teams last December. By the end of Q2 2018, Microsoft also expects to add screen-sharing, third-party video support, voicemail capabilities and transcription/recording services. Other features, including "location-based routing," "group call pickup," "call park" and "shared line appearance," are due by year's end, according to Microsoft.
Despite its seeming demotion, Skype for Business isn't going away anytime soon. For one, the Teams-to-Skype transition could take upward of three years, industry watchers estimate. For another, Microsoft has promised to continue supporting Skype for Business Online and Skype for Business Server, with a new server release expected in the second half of 2018. Microsoft is also expected to enable Skype for Business-certified devices to work on Teams sometime in Q2. [BACK TO 2018 PRODUCT LIST]
Cloud may be king at Microsoft nowadays, with the Office 365 productivity suite taking much more of a leading role in Microsoft's product development efforts compared to its on-premises or retail "boxed" counterpart, but Microsoft hasn't thrown in the towel on its old-school Office software yet. At its Ignite conference, Microsoft announced that it was readying the next version of the on-premises Office product, dubbed "Office 2019," for public release sometime in the second half of 2018.
In a blog post announcing Office 2019, Microsoft Office General Manager Jared Spataro characterized the upcoming release as an olive branch to organizations that are still wary of making the move to the cloud. "Cloud-powered innovation is a major theme at Ignite this week. But we recognize that moving to the cloud is a journey with many considerations along the way. Office 2019 will be a valuable upgrade for customers who feel that they need to keep some or all of their apps and servers on-premises," he wrote.
Microsoft expects to roll out a preview of Office 2019 sometime in the second quarter, with general availability in the second half of 2018. New features coming down the pipeline, according to Spataro, include enhancements to the inking feature, improved data analysis capabilities in Excel, expanded PowerPoint animation features and better security. One notable limitation that Microsoft announced early this year: Office 2019 will not be supported on Windows versions older than Windows 10 (which means the still-popular Windows 7 is out of the running). [BACK TO 2018 PRODUCT LIST]
The next major version of Visual Studio is "now in the early planning phase," Microsoft said in June, over two years after the release of Visual Studio 2017.
This announcement represented Microsoft's first official mention of Visual Studio 2019. It was prompted by the company's freshly announced acquisition of GitHub, where Microsoft's developer teams do a lot of their work.
The Visual Studio 2019 announcement was light on concrete details, but John Montgomery, director of Visual Studio program management, gave a broad outline of what developers can expect:
Montgomery added that Visual Studio 2019 previews, whenever they roll out, will be able to run on the same machines as Visual Studio 2017.
As far as a release date, however, Microsoft has offered no timeframe so far, indicating only that it will "say more in the coming months." [BACK TO 2018 PRODUCT LIST]
Microsoft began sharing the earliest details of its next-gen BizTalk Server product in early August, including an estimated release timeframe of "within roughly 9 months of the general availability of Windows Server 2019." That Windows Server product is slated for release sometime in the second half of 2018, which ostensibly pushes the BizTalk Server "vNext" release into early 2019.
According to Microsoft's August announcement, the next BizTalk Server product will contain previously released feature packs, and will support "the latest versions of Windows Server, SQL Server and Visual Studio." It will also be possible to upgrade to the new BizTalk Server product from BizTalk Server 2013 R2 and BizTalk Server 2016. [BACK TO 2018 PRODUCT LIST]
Microsoft also said at Ignite last year that it plans to release the next major version of the on-premises SharePoint Server in the later part of 2018, in tandem with Office 2019. The company hasn't been too descriptive about what changes and improvements are coming to SharePoint Server 2019, but it did share the following "big bets" in a blog post in October:
Another anticipated -- but as-yet unconfirmed -- component of SharePoint Server 2019 could be the potential for continued support for InfoPath, Microsoft's now-deprecated electronic forms software, even though Microsoft is grooming PowerApps and Microsoft Flow to be InfoPath's successor.
Most of Microsoft's improvements come first to the SharePoint Online product, with some (but not all) filtering down to the server product via Feature Pack releases. Microsoft's SharePoint Online roadmap, unveiled in May, promised things like a new SharePoint Admin Center, OneDrive Files on Demand and improved search, but exactly which features SharePoint Server 2019 will get is unclear. Microsoft also launched the SharePoint Framework in 2017 to support client-side customizations using open source tools for SharePoint Online, but also promised to deliver SharePoint Framework support for the server product, too. [BACK TO 2018 PRODUCT LIST]
Microsoft has been more reticent in describing details about the upcoming Exchange Server release compared to the other 2019-branded server releases that are on tap this year. The company has confirmed that the timing of the Exchange Server 2019 preview and release milestones will mirror those of SharePoint Server 2019, Office 2019 and Skype for Business Server 2019, but beyond those details, Microsoft has been mostly mum. Microsoft did indicate in a Tweet at September's Ignite event that the next version release of Exchange will focus on security, compliance, usability and manageability. [BACK TO 2018 PRODUCT LIST]
The last 12 months have proved to be a mixed bag for Dynamics 365, Microsoft's repackaged CRM and ERP cloud suite that first debuted in late 2016. Last spring, the company began integrating Dynamics 365 with LinkedIn, giving sales teams new ways to tap the vast well of information from the professional social network's 500 million registered users. Microsoft also launched the first of the "Dynamics 365 AI Solutions" at Ignite. Dynamics 365 AI Solutions is an initiative that links Dynamics 365 with Microsoft's various AI, machine learning and enterprise search offerings to solve what Steve Guggenheimer, head of Microsoft's Developer Platform & Evangelism unit, called "high-value, complex enterprise scenarios." New Dynamics 365 application components also debuted throughout 2017, including Dynamics 365 for Retail and Dynamics 365 for Talent.
There have been some off notes, too. For instance, the long-promised integration between Dynamics 365 and Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant, still hasn't come to fruition -- at least, not in the way that Microsoft had initially planned. In early January 2018, Microsoft announced in a short blog post that it would be "discontinuing the current Cortana integration preview feature that was made available for Dynamics 365," and instead "focusing on building a new long term intelligent solution experience, which will include Cortana digital assistant integration."
Microsoft also caused some consternation among partners last fall when it proposed a white-labeling model for Dynamics 365 under the code name "Tenerife." Microsoft course-corrected a bit after that announcement was met with a general outcry. Instead, the company is now promising a more streamlined Dynamics 365 model that's slated to take effect in the spring of 2018. The company broadly sketched out its plans in a September blog post:
As part of the revamp, Microsoft also plans to release two new NAV-optimized Dynamics 365 offerings for partners in the first half of 2018. One of these offerings will be a Dynamics 365 cloud app sold through Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) partners, while the other will be an application development platform for ISVs that qualify for Microsoft's ISV Cloud Embed program. [BACK TO 2018 PRODUCT LIST]
Most of the excitement around Windows Server last year -- from a roadmap perspective, at least -- was generated from Microsoft's move to transition the product to the same biannual servicing model that Windows 10 and Office ProPlus now use. Under this so-called "semiannual channel" release cadence, Windows Server receives two major feature updates each year -- one in the spring and one in the fall. Users enrolled in the Windows Insider program can get early access to each semiannual channel release for testing purposes before it becomes generally available. The first Windows Server (and current) semiannual channel release was "version 1709," which hit general availability last October. The next semiannual channel release, dubbed "version 1803," is currently in the testing phase and should become available in March or April. Microsoft is offering this biannually updated product alongside its more traditional Windows Server 2016 product, where feature updates aren't as frequent.
An obvious advantage of jumping on the semiannual channel train with Windows Server is the opportunity to get new and major feature changes, but organizations have some restrictions. They can only use the Server Core installation option for production workloads with Windows Server version 1709, or they can use Nano Server, but just for hosting containers. Management of Windows Server version 1709 comes via a remote tool called "Project Honolulu," a browser-based solution that replaces the earlier Server Management Tools product. Now in technical preview, Project Honolulu is expected to become generally available "sometime in 2018," according to a Microsoft infograph from Ignite.
In contrast to this new semiannual channel model, Windows Server 2016 continues to follow the more traditional update model. Microsoft has taken to calling this the "long-term servicing channel," where major updates are available every two to three years (akin to the old "service pack" approach). Given that Windows Server 2016 was commercially released in the fall of 2016, there's a chance that the first early test builds of Windows Server "v.Next" could see daylight in late 2018. [BACK TO 2018 PRODUCT LIST]
Kurt Mackie contributed to this report.