Windows 10 is free.
This is a statement which makes many people uneasy. After all Windows didn’t used to be free and nothing in life is ever really free, right? So when will the real cost of Windows 10 be revealed? Well now we know and it hits both customers and Microsoft in very different ways…
Let’s break them down:
1. Windows 10 Cost to Microsoft: $1.5 Billion
If you ever doubted Microsoft was taking a huge hit to give users Windows 10 for free, doubt no longer. This month the company announced its Q3 results and revealed this carved a massive $1.5 billion hole in its revenues.
2. Windows 10 Cost to Users: Choice
The most obvious point to address is Windows 10 will not always be free.
Microsoft has long stated Windows 7 and Windows 8 users will enjoy a free upgrade window during Windows 10’s first year of release (July 29, 2015 to July 29, 2016). It has been implied that after this date the standard retail costs will apply ($119 for Windows 10 Home, $199 for Windows 10 Pro).
And yet this remains a grey area as Microsoft refuses to explicitly state this is what will happen.
Why? Because it gives Microsoft the option to use the free period to drive upgrades then extend it – possibly forever – ‘at the last minute’. So that’s not the total solution to getting money back. Neither is Windows 10 Enterprise as it has never been free and therefore isn’t part of lost costs.
Instead where Microsoft will recover its lost Windows 10 income is through a much less popular route: Control.
Using default settings (the norm for most mainstream customers) gives Windows 10 an incredible amount of user data (anonymised though invaluable) and absolute control over updates and the installation of new features and services. What’s more, by being ‘free’, Microsoft clearly feels more entitled to use Windows 10 to push users towards its own products.
This was initially subtle. Several Windows 10 updates in August casually switched user preferences (such as default browser) back to Microsoft solutions, then stepped things up by automatically deleting some third party apps and tools in November. Since then the company has become more overt. This week it declared all attempts to use rival search engines in the Windows 10 search bar would be blocked and all results must load in Edge, no matter the user’s default browser.
Microsoft’s logic? Avoiding “a compromised experience that is less reliable and predictable” – but for whom?
Needless to say, such positions have led many to declaring they will never upgrade to Windows 10. But unless they plan on switching to Mac OS X (an even more controlled environment) or a distribution of Linux, that won’t be an option forever.
For the first time in the history of Windows, Microsoft has declared it was making versions of Windows incompatible with new hardware. More specifically Windows 7 and Windows 8 will now not support the latest Intel, AMD and Qualcomm chipsets. Some compromises followed but this has still effectively marooned 60% of the world’s operating systems to ageing hardware.
Not everything is sneaky tricks.
Windows 10 has an increasingly credible app store for revenue and apps work across PCs, tablets and mobile (even if this impressive technical achievement is hit by the failure of Windows Phone/Mobile). Similarly Microsoft can justifiably point to its rivals employing similar tactics. Apple has long exerted extreme control over its platforms and Google trades users’ their anonymised data in exchange for free products and looking at ads.
And these points are fair. Rivals have long employed similar tactics to those Microsoft is being now criticised for in Windows 10. But, then again, that’s also the point: Microsoft was different from the controlling Apple and the data mining Google. Now? Not so much.
And that is where the true cost of ‘free’ Windows 10 really comes in.