Windows 10On January 21, Microsoft provided its first sneak peek at Windows 10. Naturally, it showed off all the new bells and whistles: Cortana, the Spartan browser, Windows 10 for phones and tablets, Office universal apps, “other” universal apps, an Xbox app, Continuum Mode….  But as strange as it may sound, the most significant announcement that day related to Windows licensing.

What’s In It For You

There are two key aspects of this announcement you don’t want to miss:

  1. During the first 12 months after its release, Windows 10 will be offered for free to people with qualified devices. Free. As in… free. To give you some perspective, an upgrade license for Windows 8.1 Pro currently costs from $100 to $200, depending on what licensing program you use.

In their own words, Microsoft is saying this: “a free upgrade for Windows 10 will be made available to customers running Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1 who upgrade in the first year after launch.” Based on the latest numbers by, I would estimate that about 75 percent of the total Windows install base will qualify for the free upgrade. But if you’re still on XP or Vista, then you’re out of luck.

Also, if you have Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8 Enterprise, Windows 8.1 Enterprise, Windows RT, or Windows RT 8.1, and you don’t have Software Assurance, then you’re also out of luck. Here is the caveat that Microsoft currently has posted on their Windows website:

It is our intent that most of these devices will qualify, but some hardware/software requirements apply and feature availability may vary by device. Devices must be connected to the internet and have Windows Update enabled. ISP fees may apply. Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1 Update required. Some editions are excluded: Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise, and Windows RT/RT 8.1. Active Software Assurance customers in volume licensing have the benefit to upgrade to Windows 10 Enterprise outside of this offer. We will be sharing more information and additional offer terms in coming months.

That’s all the info Microsoft is currently offering on this topic, but they give you the option of signing up for an email when they release more details. But the second key aspect to this announcement is this:

  1. After you upgrade, Microsoft will provide you with incremental upgrades for free over the lifetime of your device. This is not a surprise to those of us who have been watching trends in Microsoft licensing. There have been rumors about this for a while but now it is official.

This is a major shift for Microsoft. Windows 10 is the last major release of Windows in the foreseeable future. Instead of releasing a new version of Windows every few years, they are shifting to free incremental changes instead. In other words, instead of saving up all their awesome (and not-so-awesome) new features for the next big release, Microsoft is going to release those new features to everyone as they come available…for free.

So conceivably, you can upgrade your PC to Windows 10 (for free) and use Windows 10 until the cows come home, but instead of your operating system falling farther and farther behind the times, it will stay up to date with Microsoft’s latest features (for free). Of course, there are going to be some hardware restrictions that pop up along the way that will prevent you from utilizing some new features. For example, your plain-vanilla flat panel monitor that you’ve been using for a while is not going to suddenly be able to function as a touchscreen for the Windows 10 Angry Birds app. (Sorry.) But overall, you will benefit from the new security and productivity benefits that Microsoft provides.

What’s In It For Them

So what is Microsoft’s angle here? What’s in it for them? Well, if they can get people to jump on board, then there are several benefits for their business model.

They want this launch to be a success and they want people to start using it. For the last 15 years, Microsoft has been releasing a new OS about once every three and a half years, so new releases have become rather routine and ho-hum. They want this one to be different. They want to make it big. They want people to sit up and pay attention to this one and actually take action.

If they can get most people on board, then Microsoft can avoid the current trend of users entrenching themselves in an old version. Most people stayed with Windows XP for years and then jumped straight to Windows 7 instead of buying Windows Vista. Currently lots of users are sticking with Windows 7, waiting for the next “big thing” to come out, instead of upgrading to Windows 8 or 8.1. If they can get most of their user base to upgrade to Windows 10 and then they stop releasing major versions, then they can stop the leap-frogging and most of their users will be on same platform for the foreseeable future. This makes it easier to address security issues, support issues, and hardware/software compatibility issues. For once, everyone will be in the same boat moving in the same direction.

Also, this makes it easier for partner companies who create software for use on a PC. In Microsoft’s words: “With universal Windows apps that work across the entire device family, developers can build one app that targets the broadest range of devices – including the PC, tablet, phone, Xbox, the Internet of Things, and more.”

Overall, it seems to me that Microsoft is trying realign and solidify its user base. Right now, Microsoft has lots of users using lots of different versions of Windows. With this move, they are trying to consolidate the user base they have, make it more homogenous, and lay a foundation for future growth. They may lose some money in the short term because people won’t paying for upgrade licenses next year, but in the long term I think they hope to solidify and simplify their user base and keep those users buying Microsoft solutions for years to come. Smart move.

For more information on the new developments, read this post on the Microsoft Windows blog.

You can watch the keynote presentation from the Windows 10 event, too.

If you have questions about your Microsoft licensing or will need help upgrading Windows, email us or give us a call at 502-240-0404!