In July 2016, Microsoft revealed several new initiatives at its annual Worldwide Partner Conference, including how the company and its partners plan to capitalize on a business world going through a digital transformation. But one small announcement may have slipped by unnoticed, despite how Forbes Magazine and many other publications reported it.

Windows 10 Enterprise E3

On July 12, 2016, Yusuf Mehdi, in the Microsoft Windows Blog, announced that the company will offer businesses Windows 10 Enterprise E3 through its Cloud Solution Provider channel. This version of Windows 10 will have enterprise-grade security and management capabilities and cost $7 per seat per month.

Despite the headlines, this is not the first time Microsoft has offered the Windows operating system as a true pay-as-you-go subscription service. But the key phrase to focus on in the announcement is “Cloud Solution Provider channel.” This version of Windows 10 is specifically designed for enterprises needing managed services, so it’s particularly helpful for businesses that do not have dedicated IT resources or IT staff.

This limits the scope of the announcement to a relatively small subset of the Windows 10 user population. For most businesses and nearly all consumers, it has little to no impact on their usage of Microsoft Windows 10.

SEE: Windows 10 Anniversary Update: The new features heading your way

Future indicator

The Forbes article, and more than a few others, used this announcement to imply that Microsoft has some sort of a grand plan to start charging a subscription fee for all Windows versions in the not too distant future. I think that assessment is a bit sensational and more than a bit premature.

Satya Nadella’s keynote address at the WPC talked about the digital transformation all businesses are experiencing and how the transition is changing the way just about every transaction is handled in an enterprise. A business universe undergoing such a dramatic change will not be receptive to the hassle of a shift in OS pricing structure. Microsoft understands this.

However, a subscription service that provides Windows 10 and management services for smaller enterprises lacking IT infrastructure makes perfect sense. Adding a certified CSP third-party partner to help with the details could make the arrangement too good to pass up for many enterprises.

There is no nefarious plot on Microsoft’s part to inflict a subscription fee on an unsuspecting world.

Bottom line

At the enterprise level, Microsoft has always charged businesses for using Windows. The upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or 8 may be free, but the continued use of Windows in your business has never been free, nor should it be. The new twist in the conversation is that the fees for using Windows will be called a subscription now. Hardly earth shattering.

At the consumer level, the future prospects of Windows 10 and the subscription model are much murkier. Where enterprises are willing to pay for more security assurances and management services, consumers may fail to see the value and resist a monthly fee. Microsoft knows this and will look for ways to mitigate such entrenched resistance.

For example, Microsoft may implement a tiered system where the basic Windows OS is free. The free version will get security upgrades, but little more. The next tier version of Windows will get basic Windows plus feature upgrades for included apps, built-in protocols for the Internet of Things, and perhaps entertainment features like Direct X and VR plugins, to name a few.

In that scenario, consumers might be willing to pay a small monthly fee for an operating system that provides the platform for the best entertainment, the best experience, and the best value for their hard-earned dollar. And the most important thing, the thing that will drive the doomsday press crazy, is that consumers will actually want to pay the subscription fee to get those enhanced features. Paying a subscription fee for Windows is not the end of the world.

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Your thoughts

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