Windows 10 is free, but pricing after first year is still open

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By Larry Banks

Microsoft has lofty ambitions for Windows 10 – to power a billion devices by 2018. To achieve that, the company will let users update to the new version for free for a year after Windows 10’s release, which is due out this summer. After that though, Microsoft does not yet know what it will charge to upgrade, or how upgrades will be delivered in future.

Windows 10 is free, but for how long?

Joe Belfiore, the vice president of operating systems, said on Thursday that the company’s main concern is to get the OS into a critical mass of devices quickly. How will people obtain Windows 10 after the first year however? “I don’t know”, was his response at a press event during the company’s annual Build conference in San Francisco.

Microsoft has not claimed that it would never charge to upgrade, or to buy an outright license, but executives have emphasised getting the software into users’ hands more than pricing. Users who update will get new features and benefits for a very long time, according to Belfiore. Those add-ons will also include apps and full OS updates, he added.

Windows 10 is a huge gamble for Microsoft, aiming to make Windows essential to every mobile device and piece of software that we use. That’s because the system can run so-called universal apps that can run on any device, all delivered via Microsoft’s cloud. The software should in theory know exactly how you intend to use it and on what type of device.

Joe Belfiore
Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore.

This is a very different approach to how the company delivers its products. So Microsoft has moved Windows away from a one-off license model into an ongoing service. It’s also making sure applications can run on many different devices, even those that don’t run Windows. In the end, Microsoft just needs to get more customers onboard.

“Microsoft’s strategy goes beyond Windows 10, but a successful launch and swift user adoption is crucial to create the foundation for Microsoft’s business model transition”, Geoff Blaber, vice president of Americas at CCS Insight, wrote in an analyst note after the company’s Build keynote presentation on Wednesday.

The current uncertainty about Windows 10’s price may encourage more PC users to upgrade sooner rather than later. It also raises questions about the new features that users can expect when they pay for Windows 10. The company has not ruled out the possibility that more substantial updates could warrant a new number or name change, in a similar manner to how Apple has moved to an annual cycle of incremental updates with names such as Mavericks and Yosemite (Apple gives away OS X). The issue is whether Microsoft will charge and market these updates.

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