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Could Windows 10 mark the end of so-called 'lifetime software' from Microsoft?

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August 17, 2015

Microsoft has built a multi-billion-dollar business on the sale of new versions of its venerable Windows operating system (OS) through retailers and PC makers, who pass on the cost of licensing its OS to us through the cost of a new personal computer or laptop.

Windows was and still is Microsoft’s overall strategy, something that led to Office and then to enterprise servers with its Server 2003 (no longer supported), Server 2008 and Server 2012 as of late.

But now there are rumors in the blogosphere that Windows 10 may be the last so-called lifetime license.

We suspect it'll be the items and additions that were once considered 'free' are what we start paying for in the Windows 10 world. Or is it not?

In the recent past, new additional features for an existing edition of Windows' OS would be wrapped up with a round of new security patches and delivered as 'service packs'.

Microsoft service packs helped users reduce the update cycle that could eat not only one's time but also great chunks of internet bandwidth.

In the days of Windows past, service packs were a godsend to system administrators on the server and also on the client side. It was service packs that 'saved the lives' of Windows XP users, with one pack (SP3) rolling out no less than 1,174 fixes in one fell swoop.

To be sure, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 became separate products and you paid accordingly. Are you surprised? We're not... This is how Microsoft gets billions of dollars of new revenue every year.

On the server side, we have precedents for server packs turning into distinct, separate and chargeable products.

For the past few years already, Microsoft has tried to upsell its end-users to so-called premium editions of Windows which included media features – or, in the case of Windows Vista, more than a minimalist user interface for the supposed home user.

In the past, Microsoft has also offered Bonus Packs and “feature packs” adding new product functionality outside the current version but due in the next version of Windows shipped only to OEMs.

Microsoft then introduced a wireless feature pack for Vista in April 2008. It tried to tease us further in Windows Vista with Ultimate Extras-– packs of even more features for those who'd sprung for the most expensive SKU.

Microsoft has said that everyone, irrespective of version, will continue to get security patches for the life of the product. Anything less would have caused a rather large backlash within the IT community, since it would have opened doors to hackers and potential security issues for unpatched versions of its Windows operating system.

But, in the Windows 10 immediate future, it's possible to foresee Microsoft DirectX suddenly being weaponised as a reason to upgrade to the latest release or charged as an optional extra.

And it's not like Microsoft hasn't done exactly that in the past. A user need not look past DirectX 11.1 as a prime example of encouraging users to migrate.

Overall, DirectX 11.1 was released in early 2013, some 6 1/2 years before the January 2020 end of life for Windows 7.

The official reason given was that the backend components that make up the new features were not designed to work under Windows 7.

Given this 'middle finger' approach to Windows 7 users, it is totally foreseeable that Microsoft would try and leverage it again to try and bolster sales of an already heavily criticised operating system.

We could almost predict a time when OEMs start introducing their own charges. PC makers are under constant pressure to reduce production costs in what has become an extremely cutthroat market.

And OEMs with Microsoft have a long experience with this. They tried upselling us from Windows Vista Home Basic on with its cut-price user interface on low-spec'd and low-priced PCs to machines running Windows Home Premium, the version of the Home edition of Windows Vista featuring the full UI, media tools and Media Center that required a machine with more memory.

Windows 10 has been available since July 29 for free for a year for existing users of Windows 7 and 8. But then what?

Microsoft is already starting to talk about “Windows as a Service." Anyone who knows anything about Microsoft and the IT industry in general knows what that means. The current trend among IT vendors is to flip you from paying a one-off fee for a product or service and to pay a monthly subscription.

To be sure, Microsoft certainly isn't the only one in the client operating-system. Apple is too, with Mac OS X. Most of the recent OS X upgrades cost less than $25 but the base functionality doesn't really appear to change massively.

Sure there may be a reasonable number of tweaks, but nothing earth shattering. Microsoft charges more than twice that for the various Windows 7 and 8 SKUs.

The key difference, and the reason Apple charges so little for OS X versus a new edition of Windows from Microsoft, is that Apple is more concerned with having you upgrade to its latest hardware because it's a hardware company that does software and it can charge mightily for that hardware.

Microsoft, despite what former CEO Steve Ballmer would have you believe, is primarily a software company. And that's where all the difference lies.

Windows 10 might be the last ever edition of the signature piece of software that not only bankrolled Microsoft to become the behemoth it is today, but was a key foundation stone of its business, and right from day one.

Users probably face the prospect of paying for what was once given away with Windows 10. Microsoft has demonstrated a tendency for boxing up features in the past-– it just didn't demand payment.

Windows-as-a-service, rather than as a product, finally gives Microsoft the motive and the means to begin such a new trend. Then again, will it really be such of a new trend after all?

Source: Microsoft Corp.

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