Redmond View

Why Microsoft Should Make Windows 10 Free

After the mediocre reception for Windows 8 and 8.1, Microsoft may have to take drastic measures to bring back excitement for the Windows OS brand.

Microsoft has targeted this fall to release Windows 10. Given this new PC OS appears to overcome many of the objections users had to its predecessor Windows 8.x, and many systems will be due for upgrades, Windows 10 is poised to be a winner. However, it's not a slam-dunk that everyone will stick with Windows, especially given the current crop of lower-cost alternatives now available for those who don't need PCs (Chromebooks and iOS- and Android-based tablets, for example).

That's why Microsoft should bite the bullet and make Windows 10 a free upgrade for anyone with Windows 7 or newer. Outlandish and unlikely as this may sound, it would offer a strong incentive to ensure the Windows franchise continues to thrive. Sometimes it's necessary to cannibalize an existing business model in the interest of future growth.

That's what discount brokerage Charles Schwab did in the late 1990s just when online trading was about to take off. Schwab rolled out a sophisticated Web-based trading platform with cut-rate commissions at the expense of its more profitable telephone-based brokerage service. Had Schwab stuck with its previous business model, popular upstarts such as E-Trade and Ameritrade could have marginalized it, which is what happened to Digital Equipment Corp. and Wang when they shrugged off the arrival of PCs.

My point is that the time has come for Microsoft to do the unthinkable, even if it costs billions. Perhaps it's in the cards. COO Kevin Turner cryptically suggested Microsoft is looking at other ways to monetize Windows. "There are additional opportunities for us to bring additional services to the product and do it in a creative way," Turner said at the Credit Suisse investor conference last month.

Windows is no longer in the driver's seat -- Office 365 is now Microsoft's most strategic platform, as this month's cover story points out. Nevertheless, Microsoft doesn't want Windows to fall behind and should take whatever drastic measures are necessary to ensure it can thrive.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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