Microsoft To Offer Windows 10 As Free Upgrade For Windows 8.1, Windows 7 Users

Microsoft said Wednesday it will offer Windows 10 as a free upgrade for customers running Windows 8.1, Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 7, a move portending a future in which Windows will be delivered as a service.

Microsoft will offer the free upgrades for one year after Windows 10 hits the market, which is expected to happen "later this year," Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Operating Systems Group, said in a press conference at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash.

Windows fragmentation has long been a challenge for Microsoft developers, which have to account for differences between versions when coding apps. By getting everyone onto Windows 10, Microsoft can remove these barriers and let developers reach as many users as possible.

But Windows 10 is more than just an upgrade. Once a device has been upgraded to Windows 10, Microsoft will keep it updated for free for as long as it is eligible for support. This ensures that users get new security fixes and other features as soon as they're released, instead of having to install them manually.

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"We think of Windows as a service," Myerson said at the event. "In the next couple of years, one could reasonably think of Windows as one of the largest Internet services on the planet. What version you're running will cease to make sense."

Myerson didn't elaborate on how Windows as a service will be priced. But in a Q&A at the event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said it wouldn't entail a "fundamental shift" in Microsoft's Windows business model.

"Our goal is to run one of the largest Internet services that enable people to use Windows every day," Nadella said.

Jon Bach, president of Puget Systems, a Kent, Wash.-based Microsoft system builder partner, told CRN he thinks this could be a good move for Microsoft in the long term. "Microsoft seems to be moving towards a fast release, fast cycle product. I think subscription is a better fit," he said.

Todd Swank, senior director of product marketing at Equus Computer Systems, a Minneapolis-based system builder partner, said Microsoft is exploring every avenue it can to maintain market share in light of changes in how clients access apps and data.

"I think we’re seeing Microsoft re-writing their own rule book, which is why they’re offering Windows 10 as a free upgrade for any Windows 7 or Windows 8 user. That kind of thinking would have been considered ludicrous only five years ago," said Swank.

Windows as a service is great news for developers because they'll be able to target smartphones, tablets and PCs with one app, according to Myerson. "Windows as a service makes Windows 10 the most attractive Windows platform ever," he said.

"Windows 10 will forge a new relationship between us and our customers, consumers, developers and the enterprise," Myerson said.

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