We finally have a date for the release of SQL Server 2016. Microsoft announced last week that SQL Server will be generally available on June 1 for purchase and installation. Certainly Microsoft is moving forward with a cloud first release and the new terminology of SQL Server 2016 being "generally available" as opposed to RTM or released. I'm guessing this will be the new way we'll get bits as sold and supported, when they are generally available. It's kind of a strange, vague term that leaves me wanting, but perhaps that's just me.
The feature mix for each edition is now available (Developer, Express, Standard, Enterprise), which is what many people have been waiting for. Standard will has a core limit (24) and low memory (128GB), but does get two node Availability Groups (and FCIs). Stretch Databases, RLS, Dynamic Data Masking and more are also available. It is disappointing that Always Encrypted isn't allowed,but I do understand there is a desire to push companies with the need for more features to Enterprise. I just wish the decision wasn't based on security, where we have enough problems. At least Developer Edition is free.
I didn't think that SQL Server 2014 added a lot of features, but SQL Server 2016 is definitely worth a full release. There are many new improvements, and this is definitely a release worth considering as an upgrade. If you just need the core T-SQL, database engine features, you probably could still run on 2005 (or even 2000), but if you want a supported configuration, need some HA capabilities and better performance, look at 2016. Many things just run faster. In fact, the CSS engineers have a whole series of posts on the various improvements made in SQL Server 2016 that make it faster without more work from you.
We've got some collections to help you learn more about SQL Server 2016. Whether you want to better understand the In-Memory OLTP improvements or the Query Store, or even Row Level Security, check out our Learning SQL Server 2016 series.
I don't think anyone should just upgrade your SQL Server 2008, R2, 2012, or 2014 instances just because there is a new version. Each upgrade should be considered on its own, weighing the pros and cons that against the resource costs (licensing, personnel cost, and development efforts). However, if you are looking to upgrade, and want newer features, I think this is a version that you could move to and run for the next decade easily. Many features have been improved, and the new enhancements give you room to grow.
I'm excited about the new version of SQL Server 2016, something I haven't been able to say for a long time.