A long time ago I heard something which made me think that at some point Microsoft will have to make Windows free. I miss read this article’s headline my phone earlier today, so I thought it was happening sooner than I had ever imagined. But no, just an update on the current plan with Windows, RT and phone 8. Interesting, but not free Windows interesting!
Phones + e-mail = issue!
Ok Ross, tell me why will Windows be free.
To me it’s a no brainer. Sure MS make money from windows – but what if they lose money because of it too? Apple have started to give their OS away for free, Google has always been “free”, Ubuntu and other Linux based open source stuff is of course free, and if Amazon made an OS I bet that would be free! The benefit, as I see it, is that you make your money elsewhere. Google is not really free, Apple OS runs on hardware only made by one company. Ubuntu charge for commercial level support and so on. MS could keep selling their OS to the enterprise, but make the consumer version free. Clearly this would be a little less capable – networking, AD, server software etc. would not be free, but making the OS free could have some serious up sides.
Everyone using the latest version of Windows is what MS want. Partly because they want the cash, but also for security and control. In windows 8, they get a bit (30-20%!!!) of every “Metro” software sale – image if that was true of all software sold on the windows platform, in history. I don’t know the numbers but I bet that is a lot of cash! And in Windows 8 that’s the only way you can get “Metro” apps, nice! Here then Windows is a Platform, and the more people have it the more software sales there will be! Not to mention MSDN subscriptions ;-).
There are other benefits too. Windows is widely pirated, and preventing that is a PITA, for MS, but also for legitimate users. Likewise, old versions of windows are a problem, people don’t want to get off them, but MS have to, sort of, support these decade old OS’s, and it’s a bit of a lose, lose game for them. Drop support, and the tech world are OK with that, but Mom and Pop and disgusted. Keep supporting it, and you’re a bit week, plus you have a “dumb” user base working in a hostile world with an inadequate tool – lose, lose!
Giving the software away to home users also makes sense given MS’s direction toward becoming a devices and services company. Sell them some devices, then sell them some services to run on the device, the tie in is the OS that, while free, sort of (but never overtly) binds the user to the service provider – it’s not a new idea…
When will Windows be Free?
Well that’s a hard one to call. I guess somewhere in Redmond there’s a chart with a couple of lines on it, one is profit from Window sales, the other is some of proxy for lost market to Apple and Google. Where they cross, is when it becomes free – hopefully a bit before! My guess is somewhere around the back end of 2016, but knowing how slow MS can be, don’t be surprised if that turns out to be 2018!
What does this mean for Developers (,developers, developers…)
Well I don’t see it as good news, but only just. It could be good news – but I think to start with it will be a bad news, and with time it will get better, especially if you live in the MS bubble. Clear then!
The issue is deployment. Although having a store will make it easier to deploy a packaged application, there will be 2 down sides. The first is that all devs will need to register somehow with MS, making sure they are on a white list and that their apps are “Good/Secure” – whatever that may mean. A couple of things with this: 1, it will cost you – currently it about 100 dollars – I think – it will get cheaper over time, maybe it will be free at some point, but it will make it hard for someone to develop a little free app, like a bookmark tool, or a Excel Addin [:-)]. 2, it will be “slow”. MS will need to check every line of code, that will take time. Devs will have to learn how to get an app into the store, and all the jazz that will inevitable go with that – time.
All of this might not be a big deal if there is a side load option, or something similar available – but I can’t see the desktop shipping in a free version of Windows.
The second issue is that the number and diversity of languages supported will, in-practice, drop through the floor. This is more of a issue. At the moment any one can buy a copy of Windows and use that as a fairly robust template of how to write a coding language that will work on that platform. This can still continue, but what they wont be able to do is get the code on the machine in the first place. That gateway will be controlled 100% by Microsoft. In the future there may be a API (or something) for different languages to write deployment against, but that’s never going to be the same. Companies like Adobe might be ok, but small companies that don’t use MS tools will be hard pushed, they will more or less be forced to use MS tooling or die – I suspect.
Maybe its unimportant because desktop development is on its way out – well, maybe in a state of slow but steady decline anyway, time will tell and it will be interesting to see what happen.