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Windows 10 is a slick and smart operating system. I’ve been working with the Technical Preview (TP) since it came out in October 2014 and I’m a huge fan. I share the enthusiasm with all of you who anticipate the free Windows 10 upgrade. And I would hate for your expectations to be disappointed.
Let’s examine Microsoft’s motivation to offer a free upgrade and what it could mean for you.
Why a Free Windows 10 Upgrade?
Hypothesis 1: To Make People Happy
If people or security were the main concern, Microsoft would also offer the free upgrade to users of Windows XP, Windows Vista, or pirated versions of Windows, provided their systems could handle Windows 10.
Seriously, Microsoft isn’t some kind of do-gooder! A for-profit company will never give away something for free, unless they expect it to create some kind of revenue. If they did that, they would risk losing the confidence of their investors, their market value would drop, and they’d create a huge loss for themselves. If investors don’t trust Microsoft will produce hard cash profits, they will take their money elsewhere, like they did earlier this year.
Hypothesis 2: To Increase Microsoft’s Brand Value
Microsoft has changed since Satya Nadella took over the lead from Steve Ballmer. The Windows Insider program, a chance for users to test the TP and provide feedback, is a remarkable operation. What has stood out the most to me is how Microsoft is showing up as a team. People like Joe Belfiore, Terry Myerson, and Gabe Aul have become the face and voice of Microsoft, fostering communication and being very approachable.
Microsoft is going with the times, maybe even leading the way, and they are certainly trying to become more likable as a company. There’s nothing wrong with that. Being liked alone, however, won’t keep them afloat. Then why are they doing all this? Probably because it’s a more fulfilling way of doing business and definitely because being liked and trusted today is a prerequisite for staying in business. It’s the basis on which they can sell you more upgrades and services. This brings us to the next hypothesis…
Hypothesis 3: To Increase Microsoft’s Consumer Base
This hypothesis is based on the idea that Windows 10 will indirectly create revenue for Microsoft by serving as a platform to sell advanced features and services. In this case, more users translate into more potential customers and greater potential for revenue.
Pessimists have been speculating that Windows 10 itself could be turned into a subscription model. Frankly, unless they offered a free basic version, that would be suicide for Microsoft. It’s entirely possible, of course, that certain features, extensions, or software packages will only be available if you pay, such as they already do with the Office 365 subscription. New features like Cortana or a OneDrive backup service could also present attractive products, turning Windows 10 into a sales platform. To me this is the most likely scenario and we will explore this type of Software as a Service model in more detail in an upcoming article.
@briguy943 "Windows as a service" just means that we'll continuously keep it up to date. There is no ongoing fee.
— Gabriel Aul (@GabeAul) May 12, 2015
Meanwhile, let’s read the signs.
Consequences for Consumers
Windows Will Continue to Come in Different Flavors
Last week, Microsoft introduced Windows 10 editions and they sound very familiar. We will see a Home, Mobile, and Pro edition, as well as editions for Enterprise and Education. The splitting up into different editions indicates that Microsoft will continue to sell separate Windows 10 licenses, rather than internal upgrades for advanced operating system features.
If you’re currently running Windows 7, 8.1, or Windows Phone 8.1, the upgrade to the equivalent Windows 10 edition will be free. What you’re gaining is a state of the art operating system with exciting new features. What you’re losing, however, is freedom.
Windows Update Will Differ Between Windows 10 Editions
Windows 10 will offer three routes for receiving updates: Current Branch (CB), Current Branch for Business (CBB), and Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB). CB automatically updates devices with zero choice on the user side. CBB will permit users to delay or even reject updates. LTSB is relevant for Enterprise users only. Windows 10 Home users will be subject to CB, while users of the Pro version will be able to choose between the CB and CBB update route.
Ironically, more expensive versions of Windows will allow you to disable features, rather than unlocking them. It seems like Microsoft knows its audience all too well.
Free Windows 10 Will Restrict Update Freedoms
Now here is the catch with the free upgrade. Mary Jo Foley reports that people who make use of the free upgrade option will be committed to the CB way of receiving updates and thus won’t be able to opt out of new features. If you’re a Windows 10 enthusiast, that probably won’t disturb you. You might even opt in to receive updates before anyone else, through the Windows Insider program, which Microsoft will continue.
If you’re more skeptical, however, you might come to the conclusion that by forcing free upgraders into a zero choice Windows Update model, Microsoft is increasing its tester base. While new features will still pass through internal tests and the scrutiny of Windows Insiders, you will inevitably receive them, whether you like or not, even if they cause issues.
Now imagine Microsoft decided to promote their own services through ads, implemented via Windows Update, like they have done for the Windows 10 Upgrade notification in Windows 7 and 8. Or what if they strike a deal with an app developer and pre-install software with Windows 10 that you have no use for, like they will be doing for the Candy Crush Saga. Wouldn’t you then like to opt out of updates?
A Brave New Windows
Ads on Windows 10 is of course a worst case scenario and if Microsoft truly values its customers, they won’t abuse them like that, not even those who received a free upgrade. They will, however, need to make money and by making Windows 10 an attractive operating system Microsoft is laying the groundwork. By pushing out new features that potentially tie into cashable services, they could turn Windows 10 into a profitable sales platform.
Meanwhile, I’m wondering whether we’re soon going to see rooted Windows 10 versions or registry hacks to remove and opt out of undesired feature updates.
Your turn! What concerns you more – the price tag or the lack of freedom?
Image Credits: Milking of a Cow Via Shutterstock