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My Thoughts on Windows as a Service
Could Windows 10 be the last traditional OS Microsoft releases?
One of the big news stories that has been generating a lot of talk recently is Microsoft's announcement that they will soon be offering Windows as a Service. This announcement has generated a ton of speculation on various Internet message boards. Some have suggested that you will no longer be able to buy a Windows license because Microsoft is going to a subscription-only licensing model. Others have upped the ante by going so far as to say that Windows won't even be able to be installed locally and that Microsoft's customers will only be able to access their Windows desktop through an Office 365-like portal in the future. To the best of my knowledge however, these rumors are exactly that -- rumors.
Although Microsoft has not yet released Windows 10, they have given us a preview release that can be installed locally onto either physical or virtual hardware. Although I'm not willing to go so far as to say that Windows will never be available from Microsoft as a Software-as-a-Service subscription, it simply wouldn't make sense for Microsoft to go through the trouble of giving us a downloadable Windows 10 preview only to make the OS available only as an online virtual desktop. As for the licensing model, Microsoft's official position is that they have not yet released pricing information. It's entirely possible that Windows will be eventually be sold as a subscription, but I seriously doubt that Microsoft will completely abandon traditional licensing any time soon.
In my opinion, Windows as a Service is kind of a poor choice of wording because it implies the use of Software as a Service. Even so, Microsoft is changing the way that they do things with the Windows 10 release, and I guess that the folks in marketing had to give some kind of name to the new approach.
For decades Microsoft's approach to Windows desktop releases has been to create large, monolithic releases every few years and then try to get customers to shell out money for an upgrade. In recent years this strategy hasn't worked out so well, as evidenced by the number of people who still run Windows XP in spite of the fact that the operating system is nearly 14 years old.
Microsoft's new Windows as a Service approach is based on the idea that Windows 10 will become the last major Windows desktop release. Rather than eventually creating a Windows 11, Windows 12, etc. Microsoft will continuously upgrade Windows 10. That way, customers don't have to worry about constantly upgrading to the next version of Windows.
The idea isn't as crazy as it sounds. There are other vendors who take a similar approach to their wares. Google, for example, automatically keeps their Chromebooks up to date so that they are always running the latest software.
Even so, Microsoft's new approach is not without its challenges. For starters, Microsoft has occasionally published some buggy patches and will have to work hard to keep such patches from making their way onto customer's machines. Some might argue that this is no different than what we are dealing with today, but remember that Windows 10 is designed to run on a variety of devices. A buggy patch on a PC is one thing. A buggy patch on my Windows Phone is quite another.
Software version branching may also become an issue. Presumably some customers will opt not to install certain updates. Over time we could conceivably end up in a situation in which it is impossible to assume anything about a Windows 10 machine. Suppose for a moment that Microsoft is right and that Windows 10 really is the last Windows version. What happens if someone goes for 15 years without updating their desktops? The unpatched desktop operating system could conceivably be as different from the current Windows 10 build as Windows XP is from Windows 8.1.
My guess is that Windows 10 won't be the last Windows version. Eventually the core OS will have to be replaced. Suppose that in 20 years all desktop hardware has a 128-bit CPU. A series of patches probably won't be able to adapt the OS to take advantage of the new hardware architecture. For that we will likely need a new Windows build, or at least a recompiled OS.
Only time will tell what the future holds for Windows 10. For right now I am going to hold off on making any crazy predictions other than to say that I think that the nay-sayers have it wrong this time. I honestly believe that Windows 10 has a bright future ahead of it.
Brien Posey is a 20-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.