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Forget Windows 10. Here are the four most important words Microsoft said today.

Preston Gralla | Jan. 22, 2015
The new Spartan browser, the Cortana digital assistant and even the snazzy holographic platform weren't the real high points of Microsoft's presentation.

Windows 10

Microsoft's wide-ranging announcements today about Windows 10 covered things as mundane as new customizations for the Windows 10 Start screen and as mind-blowing as a new computing holographic platform. It showed off a new browser code-named Spartan, promised a unified development platform for all Windows devices, displayed the Cortana digital assistant running on a PC, pointed to the future of Xbox and wowed the audience with its holographic computing platform. Microsoft executives even got a chance to publicly root for the Seahawks and to subtly dis Patriot coach Bill Belichick in a news story they showed running on a Windows app.

But the four most important words they uttered may have slipped right by you: Windows as a Service.

You can be forgiven if they're the kind of words that make your eyes glaze over. Everyone these days seems to be promoting their products as an "as a Service" offering: Software as a Service (Saas), Infrastructure as a Service (Iaas) or Platform as a Service (PaaS). So Windows as a Service may sound more like a marketing concept than an actual product.

But Windows as a Service is real and seems to be the future of Windows, and of Microsoft's attempt to solve its struggles in mobile. Although Microsoft threw around the term several times at the announcement, it hasn't yet provided many details on what it means. But it provided some very strong hints.

Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the operating systems group, said that anyone running Windows 7, Windows 8.1 or Windows Phone 8.1 will be able to upgrade for free to Windows 10 in the first year after the operating system launches. And he noted that it's not just a one-time upgrade -- Windows will continue to be upgraded for free for the life of the device.

On his blog, he says, "We'll deliver new features when they're ready, not waiting for the next major release. We think of Windows as a Service -- in fact, one could reasonably think of Windows in the next couple of years as one of the largest Internet services on the planet. And just like any Internet service, the idea of asking 'What version are you on?' will cease to make sense."

In doing that, Microsoft is taking a page from the success of its Office 365 subscription service, in which you pay not to download and use a single, static version of Office, but rather for an annual subscription which continually auto-updates to the newest version.

Myerson seems to be saying that with Windows being delivered as a service, Windows 10 may well be the last "big-bang" version of the operating system, the last time that Windows gets a major single overhaul. Instead, it will be continually updated like any Web service -- like Gmail, for example.


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