Millions of consumers have updated their desktop computers, laptops, and tablets to Windows 10. Microsoft is offering a "free" upgrade for Windows 7 and Windows 8 users for a year, and people are taking them up on that offer in droves.
I wonder how many of those eager people have considered what Microsoft will ask us to pay for the privilege of using Windows 10 after the year is up.
No free lunch
I'm not saying updating to Windows 10 was a bad idea. In fact, I think it's a very good idea, and everyone should take advantage of the update while they can. However, what I am saying is that you can't expect Windows 10 to be offered without charge forever.
Microsoft is a for-profit company, and giving away a billion pieces of software (the company's goal is one billion devices) is not going to sit well with the shareholders. At some point, users will be asked to pay a subscription fee for Windows 10. We all know this, even if we haven't thought about it until now.
I have no knowledge of what Microsoft plans to charge for Windows 10, but I can make some educated guesses.
- Free with charges for additional features: In this scenario, users get the base operating system at no charge, but there's a subscription fee for other features like cloud storage or email, etc. This seems like a logistics nightmare for Microsoft, so I think this is the least likely possibility.
- Free with subscription to Office 365: This would be an interesting plan for Microsoft. One billion devices all running Office 365, all operating in the Microsoft ecosystem—that would be a fantastic turn of events for the company. This subscription scenario is very possible and may be a likely approach for enterprises, but not all consumers are interested in a productivity suite, so it won't work for everyone.
- Monthly subscription for all devices: Microsoft could keep things simple by requiring a small monthly fee for all devices—let's say $5 per installation. That would make a nice revenue steam for Microsoft, one that Wall Street would appreciate. But many households have several computing devices, and consumers might balk at the extra cost.
- Monthly subscription for multiple devices: This seems like a more realistic approach to me. Each household would pay a single subscription fee for up to five devices. The fee could be similar to what Microsoft charges for Office 365, which is about $60 per year.
I think that the actual pricing structure will be some combination of these, with discounts for students and maybe retirees. I can see Microsoft wanting to be flexible about pricing while at the same time establishing a predictable revenue stream. It will be interesting to see what they eventually come up with.
What we get
Most users could live with $60 per year for Windows 10, provided they get something of value out of the transaction. This is where Microsoft is going to see the greatest push back from consumers. People will not be willing to pay a subscription fee for the status quo. They are going to want to see innovation and new features.
If Microsoft can deliver new features that people actually want and use, then they can successfully charge a nominal fee for Windows 10. But if they can't, they are going to be looking straight into the face of a rebellion.
What happens if one billion users of Windows 10 decide they don't want to pay a subscription fee for Windows 10? Microsoft better have a Plan B, just in case.
Would you be willing to pay $5 per month ($60 per year) for the right to use Windows 10? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
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Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.