For years we've been lamenting the lack of modernization and updates applied to SQL Server Management Studio. It appears Microsoft has listened and is not providing a pipeline for separating upgrade cadences of SQL Server Management Studio from the full product suite.
A few months ago I wrote a plea to Microsoft to start the process of modernizing SQL Server Management Studio. As the main application/management tool for interacting with Microsoft's flagship database platform it has lagged behind all other advancement with the product. Since 2005 when released as the evoloution of SQL Server Enterprise Manager it's only (apparently) been upgraded in order to provide base functionality added as features the SQL Server through (now) five releases: SQL Server 2008, 2008 R2, 2012, 2014 and now 2016.
It does finally start to appear that Microsoft' SQL Server Engineering Team has taken heed and begun to not only throw much needed resources and development staff at SQL Server Management Studio but also provide an increased (or at least separate) cadence on enhancements to SQL Server Management Studio from the core product as was noted in a recent post on the SQL Server Engineering Team blog. I don't know how the decision was finally made to kick-start the updating of this valuable tool but I'm sure that a combination of needing to integrate in functionality for Azure, Stretch Database in SQL Server 2016, and the push for hybrid solutions to Cloud or on-prem only architectures had a great role in the decision. I'd also like to think that the SQL Server MVPs had a say in the matter because we've definitely been a squeaky wheel in that regard! The change in workstation hardware and higher screen resolutions over the last 10+ years that lead to some display issues on certain screens inside of Management Studio also played a role without a doubt.
Regardless I also strongly suspect that the leadership changes inside the SQL Server team should also be recognized. Since Corporate Vice President. Data Platform, Cloud & Enterprise, T.K. “Ranga” Rengarajan took lead of the engineering for Microsoft’s Database and Big Data businesses I've been very impressed with his desire to not only make the product the leading tool for data processing and decision-making but also his willingness and apparent deep interest to listen to the key product users - the Microsoft SQL Server MVPs - as well as his team around him and the SQL Server Community at large.
Yes, Management Studio does not (directly) sell licenses of SQL Server. However it keeps those key individuals who are central to the use of SQL Server and delivery of decisions based upon SQL Server as a platform happy and more importantly: productive. The success in modernizing and making Management Studio intuitive, powerful and functionally complete goes a long way towards the success of integration of Microsoft SQL Server by organizations as a result. I therefore assert Management Studio goes a long way towards growing adoption of SQL Server and is therefore not only vital to those who use the tool on a daily basis - but also towards the bottom line at Microsoft.
Apparently Microsoft is starting to feel the same.
You can download the SQL Server Management Studio June 2015 Preview here.