let me explain how that would work. Just a few years ago, paying for an Operating System was common practice. To get Windows XP or any other version of Windows, somebody always had to make an explicit transaction. When the user wanted to get a copy of Windows, they paid Microsoft a fee.
Finally, when they upgraded from one version of Windows to another one they had to buy a new license. When they bought a new computer, the manufacturer paid Microsoft for the license. Most of us thought that paying for an Operating System was normal. And then this happened… Steve Jobs: “This is one device.”(Cheers) And we are calling it… iPhone.
Advancements on smart phone’ OS
One of the many things smartphones changed is the way people experienced Operating Systems. With Android and iOS, there were no clear payments. You couldn’t buy iOS, it came with your iPhone and you just got updates as long as Apple decided to support your device. Android is famously free to use for Smartphone makers who might or might not update your phone, but will definitely not charge you for it. These Operating Systems suddenly appeared and seemed to cost nothing.
Now, of course, Apple and Google both develop their systems to ultimately make money from them but they did so, in much less straight forward ways. And once users and smartphone makers got used to the seemingly free Operating System getting them to pay for one became harder and harder.
Which is exactly what Microsoft tried and failed to do. Remember, smartphone makers originally had to pay Licensing Fees to Microsoft if they wanted to build on their phones. Being a paid OS while Android was a free alternative was in my opinion a major reason why it didn’t take off It took Microsoft until 2014 to accept this reality when it finally made Windows free on Phones and devices with screens smaller than nine inches.
The Company was essentially forced to accept the new reality that consumers and companies just wanted the OS for free. And this new reality has slowly dawned on the PC market as well. Sure, if you want to get Windows 10 on PCs today, you still have to pay for it. But the explicit payments are slowly disappearing here as well. Around 300 million users upgraded from Windows 7 and Windows 8 to Windows 10, for free.
That’s more than half of all current Windows 10 users and upgrades to users that are already on Windows 10 like the Anniversary update, the Creator’s Update, the Fall Creator’s Update and whatever else they will be called in the future, should all be, you guessed it, free.
But wait, is that initial fee for joining Windows 10?
I fully expect that to be dropped in the future as well. So, hurray! Free Operating Systems. But wait… We all know they can’t actually be free, right? Developing an OS is incredibly expensive so it’s no wonder that both Apple and Google make money out of their systems Apple, of course, sells you an iPhone, an iPad, or even a Mac for a ton of money.
So the price of the OS and future updates is simply included in the price of the device itself. Apple and Google famously also take in up to 30 percent cut of transactions made through their respective app stores. Built-in first-party services like cloud storage, music subscription services, ebook stores, and a lot more that these companies can promote using their Operating Systems is also a really good way to make money.
So, does this mean free Windows 10 for all?
I think the consumer and business versions of Windows are going to move further and further away from each other and Microsoft will, at least for the foreseeable future keep charging businesses up front for an OS that will focus less on user tracking and more on offering a clean and managable OS. On the consumer side, I expect a free and a paid version of Windows to appear.
Advanced users will continue to buy full Windows, as they do now, at least for a while still… While the masses will soon be offered Windows 10 S for free, as the default choice. Windows 10 S, if you didn’t know it yet, is a version of Windows that only allows users to install apps from the Windows Store and limits users to using Microsoft’s own browser and search engine as default.
what is the “next-big-thing” Microsoft is going after giving Windows 10 for free?
Well, a ton of things at once, but I would like to highlight one area as an example. The company calls it ‘Windows Mixed Reality’ All the big tech companies have made it very clear that they think AR and VR will be a hugely important part of the future. Google has Daydream, Facebook has Oculus, Samsung has GearVR Apple has just introduced things like AR Kit and Microsoft has HoloLens as well as Mixed Reality AR and VR is clearly super promising.
The main problem all of these platforms have though is that all of our apps and games are designed for 2D interfaces and so they either don’t work in 3D environments at all or if they do, they don’t feel right. Now look at this problem and think about how Microsoft could leverage it’s free desktop OS to solve it.
If I was Microsoft, I would make Windows 10 S free and then use it as bait to get consumers used to the Windows Store. Once they did, it would also encourage developers to not only bring their existing desktop apps to the store but also to develop programs for it from the ground up.
Through the power of the Universal Windows Platform these new apps that were written for the desktop will also work magically on Windows Mixed Reality headsets. So the leverage works to create apps.
But, what about getting them to fit in the 3D environment?
Well, just take a look at Microsoft’s newest design language called Fluent Design Introduced earlier this year apps with Fluent Design look radically different from traditional Windows programs. The system works with translucent frosted glass panels, big shadows, light effects and so on. I already quite like the way it looks on PCs but it really starts making sense when you put these apps into a 3D environment.
The lights, the depth, the shadows, and the feeling of real materials are all designed to make these apps feel like they have physical properties They look like they were designed for 3D. So if Microsoft succeeds it can leverage it’s PC user-base to create an app catalog for its Mixed Reality headsets, too.
So, to sum it up I would be really surprised if Windows 10 S wouldn’t become the free, default, OS for users. Most users have clearly signaled with Android that they would rather have their data analyzed than pay for an OS. So Microsoft won’t really have much of a choice anyway. But, more importantly, the company should have also found enough alternative ways to make money out of the OS anyway, and getting people to use the Windows Store will be incredibly important for future efforts, too.
And now I am interested to hear what you have to say about the future of Windows. Let me know in the comment section below or tweet it at me @hackthebow If you want to join the conversation. Thank you very much for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.