Microsoft's decision to make Windows 10 a free upgrade could put the new OS on more than 350 million PCs within its first year, an analysis of user share data shows.
About two-thirds of all personal computers running Windows 8.1 will take the upgrade bait in the first 12 months. A smaller but still significant percentage of Windows 7 PCs will add millions more to the Windows 10 tally, even though nearly half of those systems are in commercial or government settings, where upgrading is not left to workers.
These calculations were based on the performance of Windows 8.1, the free upgrade Microsoft shipped in October 2013 as the follow-up to the original Windows 8 of 2012.
According to Net Applications, a California company that measures operating system user share by tracking unique visitors to its customers' websites, Windows 8.1 (free) has gained share much faster than its predecessor, Windows 8 (not free) did after its debut.
In October 2014, a year after Windows 8.1's launch, 65% of PCs running Windows 8.1 or Windows 8 ran the former, an increase of about 15 percentage points from six months earlier.
While Windows 8.1 took three times longer than it took Apple's OS X Mavericks to reach 65% of the aggregate share of it and its Mountain Lion and Lion predecessors — Apple's free OSes have become the benchmark of an upgrade's uptake — Windows 8.1's adoption has been unprecedented for a Microsoft operating system.
As Computerworld reported last year, "cheap is better than pricey, free is better than cheap" when it comes to personal computer operating systems.
Microsoft has come to the same conclusion: Two weeks ago, it announced that Windows 10 would be available as a free upgrade to all machines running Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 SP1 (Service Pack 1), hardware permitting and exclusive of the Enterprise SKUs used by the largest customers. The free upgrade will be available for one year following Windows 10's official release, now slated for later in 2015.
Terry Myerson, Microsoft's top OS executive, explained the free deal as a way to manage Windows' fragmentation — users on a plethora of editions — and a boon to app developers. "This fragmentation makes it challenging for developers to delight our customers with applications," Myerson argued.
Analysts believe that there's more to it than that. With Windows revenue declining due to giveaways to OEMs, Microsoft needs to sell services and apps to make up the shortfall. Because Windows 10 will clearly be Microsoft's monetization platform, the more customers it can get onto the new OS, and the faster that uptake tempo, the better the chance, as the company's COO has said, "to monetize the lifetime of that customer through services and different add-ons [emphasis added]."
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