There's been rumor and speculation about Microsoft switching the Windows operating system to a subscription-based model since it launched Office 365. When Microsoft unveiled the latest preview build of Windows 10, executives referred to it as Windows-as-a-Service. Now, Microsoft has all but confirmed that some sort of subscription model is coming, since it trademarked Windows 365. Some customers are vehemently opposed, but before you freak out, let's back up a step and consider what a Windows 365 subscription might entail.
I'll start by saying that I'm almost positive that there'll be a subscription-based model for the Windows operating system. I know that doesn't exactly rank me up there with Nostradamus. The only reason I bother putting that out is because of my next statement: I'm almost positive that you'll still be able to buy the Windows operating system the old-fashioned way as well. The combination of giving away Windows 10 for the first year and acquiring the Windows 365 trademark is not an indication of some evil conspiracy by Microsoft to force everyone to pay a monthly fee to use Windows.
I agree with my TechRepublic peer Greg Shultz. He noted recently, "Of course, the subscription version of Windows will come with all sorts of new features and enhancements that won't be available in Windows 10. Sure, some Windows users may decide to forego the new features in Windows 365 and stick with Windows 10."
In other words, Windows will be available as both a traditional purchase or a subscription model — just as Microsoft Office is still available as both a traditional purchase and a subscription model. The advent of Office 365 didn't make the traditional Microsoft Office suite extinct, and Microsoft didn't "force" any customers to switch to the subscription model. It just made the subscription model substantially more attractive than the traditional purchase.
Most consumers don't ever really buy the Windows operating system. They purchase a PC that comes with Windows pre-installed. Some percentage of those customers may eventually purchase an upgrade to a new version, but most will simply ride out whatever version of Windows came with the PC until it's time to buy a new PC.
A 2011 survey found that the average consumer buys a new computer every 4.5 years. A lot has changed since 2011, and hardware tends to be more reliable, so that timeframe may be longer now — so, I'll round up to five years. If we assume that the initial Windows OS investment is about $200, that breaks down to $40 a year for the life of the computer. If Microsoft offered nothing else but the Windows OS as part of a Windows 365 subscription, it could conceivably charge $40 a year, and that would provide essentially the same value for customers.
It's much more likely that Microsoft will charge rates closer to Office 365, and a Windows 365 subscription will be like $100 a year or $10 a month. If it's anything like Office 365, though, you'll also get much more with that subscription than if you just buy Windows. For example, the Windows 365 subscription might provide licensing for up to five individuals just like Office 365 Home does. That brings the per-person rate down to $20 a year.
Then Microsoft could toss in other perks, like unlimited OneDrive storage or Skype calling minutes, similar to Office 365. It could bundle an Xbox Live Gold account for the family. The bottom line is that Microsoft won't just offer Windows 365 as an alternative method of buying Windows and keep its fingers crossed that users will make the switch. Microsoft will provide a lot of incentives and ensure that Windows 365 is more attractive than just buying Windows.
One other thing Microsoft could do that would drive both Windows 365 and Office 365 is to offer a discounted bundle. For example, if Office 365 Home was $100 a year, and Windows 365 Home was $100 a year, they could offer a package deal where you'd get both of them for $150 a year.
In my opinion, Office 365 is an awesome deal, and I'm anxious to see what Microsoft will offer for Windows 365. If you're strongly opposed to the subscription model, though, and you're worried that Microsoft will start charging you a monthly or annual fee, just stop and take a breath. I assure you that it will be optional.
Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He has authored or co-authored a number of books, including Unified Communications for Dummies, Essential Computer Security, and PCI Compliance.