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Microsoft: Windows 10, it's on us

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 23, 2015
Pulls the free upgrade trigger, will give away new OS to Windows 7 and 8.1 customers.

And the experts agreed that the free deal would jumpstart Windows 10.

"The free upgrade is going to be huge," said Dawson.

"This should drive a big upgrade cycle," echoed Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

How big? According to a Computerworld analysis last year, Microsoft should be able to get about 18% of all Windows personal computers onto Windows 10 within seven months of its release, which would be an uptake speed record for Microsoft.

Microsoft's move follows the lead set by mobile operating systems like Google's Android and Apple's iOS -- which provide free upgrades at least annually -- and that of Apple's OS X Mac operating system, which has been free since October 2013.

"The year [of the free upgrade deal] is a logical cut-line for Microsoft," said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. "It's not because businesses won't upgrade that quickly, but more Microsoft's way to compel [rapid upgrades]."

But it's not corporate generosity at work: There are solid business reasons for giving away Windows 10.

Myerson acknowledged that yesterday. "Today, Windows customers are spread across many versions," he said. "This fragmentation makes it challenging for developers to delight our customers with applications."

If Microsoft can entice hordes of consumers to upgrade to Windows 10, especially the huge numbers now running Windows 7, it will be able to build a bigger pool of potential customers for apps from third-party developers and services shilled by Microsoft. The lack of apps, caused in part by Windows 8's fiasco, has also branded Windows as an also-ran OS in a world where mobile is king, queen and court.

To give an idea of the potential for Windows 10 upgrades, one only needs to look at the current user shares owned by Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. Metrics firm Net Applications estimated the total user share eligible for the free upgrade at just over 76% of all Windows-powered PCs.

As is typical, Microsoft's plans were outlined in enough generality that they triggered additional questions.

For example, Myerson described Windows 10's constant update and upgrade process as "Windows as a service," and even boasted of its potential. "In the next couple of years, one could reasonably think of Windows as one of the largest Internet services on the planet," Myerson said.

That immediately prompted some to wonder whether Microsoft is headed toward a service-style subscription model for Windows. Not the case, analysts said.

"'Windows as a service' is about how it's a conduit to customers, about how Microsoft is delivering Windows 10, not the business model," said Miller.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also weighed in during a Q&A session at the end of Wednesday's presentation, telling reporters, "There is no fundamental shift to our business model that we are announcing today," when asked whether Windows would morph into a subscription service similar to Office 365.


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