The Channel logo


By | Stuart Burns 31st July 2015 17:21

Windows 10 marks the end of 'pay once, use forever' software

Welcome to Microsoft's pay-pay-pay plan

Comment Windows 10 is the last version of Windows that will ever be released. If this really is the last version of Windows desktop operating system ever, though, where will Microsoft make its money?

Microsoft, after-all, has built a multi-billion-dollar business on sales of new versions of Windows through retailers and to PC makers, who pass on the cost of licensing Windows to us through the cost of a new PC. Windows was the firm’s genesis, something that led to Office and thence to the server.

I suspect it'll be the items and additions that were once considered free are what we start paying for in the Windows 10 world.

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

Service packs helped users reduce the update-reboot-update cycle that could eat not only one's time but also great chunks of internet bandwidth. For those of us with dialup internet, cover disks with service packs saved the day.

In the days of Windows past, or Windows NT 4 as I call them, service packs were a godsend to system administrators on the server – and also on the client side. It was service packs that saved the bacon of Windows XP users, with one pack – SP3 – rolling 1,174 fixes.

Windows 10 Aero

You want new features with that? Windows 10 changes will cost you

Service packs as administrators of old knew them transmuted into distinct separate products at around the time Windows 2008 server became popular. The result? Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 became separate products and you paid accordingly.

So, on the server side we have precedent for server packs turning into distinct and separate and chargeable products.

That didn't exactly happen on the client but there have been stirrings. Microsoft has tried to upsell end-users to so-called premium editions of Windows which included media features – or, in the case of Windows Vista, more than a minimalist UI for the supposed “home” user.

In the past Microsoft has 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 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. Ultimate Extras flopped and were discountinued in Windows 7.

Microsoft has said, whilst wearing its sensible hat, 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.

But, in the Windows 10 future, it's possible to see foresee Microsoft DirectX suddenly being weaponised as a reason to upgrade to the latest release or charged as an optional extra. It's not like Microsoft haven't done exactly this in the past. A user need not look past DirectX 11.1 as a prime example of encouraging users to migrate. DirectX 11.1 was released in early 2013, some six and a bit years before the January 2020 end of life for Windows 7. It was also an Xbox One exclusive so all those Xbox 360 users just got shoved off a cliff!

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 will try and leverage it again to try and bolster sales of an already heavily criticised OS

This could even spread to hardware makers

I can also very much foresee a time when OEMs start introducing their own charges. PC makers are under constant pressure to cut production costs in what has become a cutthroat market.

They could be will be encouraged to offer, say, a one-year's free Windows subscription of the “basic” Windows with the PC that comes from them that can be upgraded to the full-featured and full-priced edition.

OEMs with Microsoft have track record: they tried upsell us from Windows Vista Home Basic on with its cut-price UI on low-specced and low-priced PCs to machines running Windows Home Premium, the version of the Home edition of Windows Vistat featuring the full Aero UI, media tools and Media Center that – surprise – required a PC with a fatter spec and price tag.

Also, I can foresee being spoon-fed particular feature-pack-like updates that are passed on to the OEM’s customers at extra cost on top of the basic machine.

The end of 'free' Windows 10 is already on the horizon.

Windows 10 will be made available on 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 tech vendors is to flip you from paying a one-off fee for a product or service and to pay a monthly subscription. A regular fee eliminates the prospect of the unexpected: customers not paying for product failure, the Son of Vista, or the trail-off of new purchases that traditionally occur at the end of a product's lifecycle.

Microsoft isn't the only one in the client operating-system game – Apple is, too, with Mac OS X. Most of the recent (although admittedly cheap) 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.

Steve Ballmer. Pic: Aanjhan Ranganathan

The software man who saw a services future for Microsoft – Steve Ballmer

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.

Windows 10 is coming in just over a week's time and this will, officially, be the last ever edition of the signature piece of software that not only bankrolled Microsoft but was a key foundation stone of its business.

I believe we face the prospect of paying for what was once given away with Windows 10. Microsoft has demonstrated a penchant 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. ®

comment icon Read 178 comments on this article or post a comment alert Send corrections


Frank Jennings

What do you do? Use manual typwriters or live in a Scottish croft? Our man advises
A rusty petrol pump at an abandoned gas station. Pic by Silvia B. Jakiello via shutterstock

Trevor Pott

Among other things, Active Directory needs an overhaul
Baby looks taken aback/shocked/affronted. Photo by Shutterstock

Kat Hall

Plans for 2 million FTTP connections in next four years 'not enough'
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella


League of gentlemen poster - Tubbs and Edward at the local shop. Copyright BBC
One reselling man tells his tale of woe