Less reasons to buy a new PC

Free Windows 10: Good for Microsoft, not great for its partners

One of the biggest news items coming out of Microsoft’s Windows 10 preview event is that the operating system will be made available for free to Windows computer owners running Windows 7 or higher. That’s great for Microsoft, consumers and enterprises for a number of reasons. But it’s not likely going to help the PC market which has faced sluggish sales for several quarters.

First, a little clarity on the “free upgrade,” which was communicated in a semi-confusing fashion at the event. [company]Microsoft[/company] Executive Vice President of Operating Systems, Terry Myerson said that computers running Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 — as well as Windows Phones — would be eligible for the software upgrade at no cost in the first year.

Terry Myerson Windows 10

But that doesn’t mean you’ll pay for Windows after you’ve used it for a year. Instead, you’ll continue to get use and will get software updates from Microsoft for the lifetime of your device as explained in Myerson’s follow-up post:

“We announced that 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.*

This is more than a one-time upgrade: once a Windows device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will continue to keep it current for the supported lifetime of the device – at no additional charge. With Windows 10, the experience will evolve and get even better over time. We’ll deliver new features when they’re ready, not waiting for the next major release.”

The asterisk in Myerson’s post references some additional details, such as certain hardware and software requirements applying, some editions of Windows 10 are excluded and features could vary by device. And the one-year time frame actually applies to when you upgrade; you’ll have 12 months from the date of the official Windows 10 launch later this year to actually apply the upgrade. One year after the launch, Microsoft could decide to charge for the platform on new devices but it hasn’t said yet.

As I noted earlier this morning, this is a great move by Microsoft because it can get more people using the latest version of Windows sooner: A free upgrade will be taken advantage of by a larger audience than a paid option. And that will put more computers on the new Windows 10 platform and the services it will offer. This will also help developers because they can take advantage of the unified Windows software to write one app that can work across phones, tablets and computers. So it’s a win for Microsoft, its developers, and its users.

For its hardware partners though, it’s not very helpful, as noted by Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin,

He makes a valid point as this free software upgrade won’t help chipmakers — namely [company]Intel[/company] — nor Microsoft’s partner device makers such as [company]Dell[/company], [company]HP[/company], [company]Lenovo[/company], and [company]Asus[/company] to name a few.

These partners are already struggling to boost computer sales in the face of growing phone and tablet adoption. Gartner estimates that 2014 worldwide PC shipments totaled 315.8 million units compared to the slightly higher 316.5 million in the prior year. The company hasn’t yet shared its guess at smartphone sales for all of last year but it says 301 million handsets shipped in the third quarter of 2014 alone. Add in the roughly 216 million tablets Gartner says shipped in 2014 and you can see even more pressure on the PC market.

A touch I.D. pad is seen on the new iPad Mini 3 during an Apple special event on October 16, 2014 in Cupertino, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Now, Microsoft’s hardware partners will have to face a new situation: One where existing computers will gain a few more years of life thanks to Microsoft’s new software, assuming it generally runs well on older hardware.

Will Windows 10 create some new opportunities for these companies? Sure, thanks to the work Microsoft has done to make Windows 10 work better on tablets and 2-in-1 computers. But probably not enough to offset potential new sales of traditional computers because of that free upgrade for at least the first year of Windows 10 availability.

12 Responses to “Free Windows 10: Good for Microsoft, not great for its partners”

  1. After buying a Windows 8.1 laptop and returning it after a week. I decided to see if Windows 10 will amount to another band aid or a real solution. For me at least I don’t see much in Windows 10 to hate, but not a lot to get excited about. It most likely ends up a fix for the Windows 8 crowd, a better offering for new PC buyer’s but a rather benign reason to upgrade from Windows 7. I may of course still get the free upgrade, if no strings are attached. But nothing like Cortana or more integration with a Windows phone which I will never own will cause me to upgrade. I also wonder how PC makers feel about giving away a OS they will probably pay for? If indeed Microsoft will continue indefinitely a update process for Windows. This will only extend people’s cling to older hardware.

  2. Chris S.

    I’m confused – the article says the Windows 10 upgrade will be available for Windows 8 users, but the quote from Microsoft only mentions 8.1. Is it available for Windows 8?

    • I suspect the upgrade path is from Windows 8.1, which is a freely available update to Windows 8. So it would still be free but you’d likely have to run your Windows 8.1 upgrade first. We’ll see how they handle this but if you have Windows 8, it still should’t cost anything to upgrade to Windows 10.

    • Microsoft stopped selling and supporting Windows 8. They now only sell Windows 8.1.
      It was one of the quickest drops in support and sales I can remember for Microsoft. So I imagine the requirement for Windows 10 will be the same for 7, 8, 8.1 as far as upgrades. I don’t know too many who have tried the Windows 10 preview but I have read some mention upgrading from Windows 8 not 8.1.

  3. Reuben Mendoza

    This article has missed the point of Windows 10 for Microsoft AND their hardware partners. Win 10 will open the gateway for bringing the intuitive touchscreen experience to the business world. Win 10 is actually a reason to dump traditional computers in the SMB and enterprise markets not keep them.

    Hardware partners that produce quality work tablets like the Surface Pro 3 will be riding a new wave of technology refreshes with their business clients. iPads and Android tablets are the wrong form factor and OS for the business world. They are just overgrown phablets better suited for preschoolers playing Mine Craft.

    HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Asus lost the personal device war for phones and tablets long ago. They need to get back to business by producing work tablets (wablets?).

    The Wablet War could be a defining moment for these hardware providers and Microsoft. I’m anxious to see what innovative competitors like Apple, Google and Samsung bring to this fight.

      • Rann Xeroxx

        The OS has to work well for both touch and non touch devices. W8 was lacking in non touch. My enterprise looked into rolling out W8.1 but really we just finished our W7 deployment. We looked into the licensing EULA for Classic Shell and it was free for corporate use so we would have just installed this and disabled Metro for non touch PC.

  4. Kyle Field

    MS should be making products for their consumers – products that last – not products that encourage chip makers to make more, cheaper, crappier chips…hardware makers to make laptops that barely work on a current OS, break at 2.25 years and aren’t innovative. Let’s go with the apple model and get some hardware that lasts and only buy a laptop every 7 years. That’ll drive competition…and trim the fat out of the market. We don’t need as many PC makers as we have now – it’s mostly just crap with only a few that truly innovate and make solid products. Dunno – I’m ready for this revolution. I’m currently on my 5 y/o macbook air and I really don’t have a compelling reason to replace it while still running the current OS. I wouldn’t mind having a PC that could do the same (and I’m sure corporations are in the same boat). why refresh PC hardware every 3 years if we can get something slightly more expensive that will last 5 and still run current OS/software?

    • Rann Xeroxx

      Windows, like Android, is all about choice. You can buy premium PC devices that are powerful and lasts for years and years and are easy to upgrade or you can buy a $99 full Windows tablet running Atom with 1GB of RAM. Both have value, in fact I got one of those $99 ones just to carry for on call support so I could VPN for VNC/RDP and use the corporate VoIP.

      Personally I would prefer to get something cheaper and refresh it more often as standards and form factors tend to change a lot within that time frame.

  5. brown_te

    I don’t see the point, Kevin. Conversely – I don’t see how charging for Windows 10 would have helped hardware makers (can anything at this point?). Whether users squeeze an extra year or two of life out of their hardware doesn’t seem like a function of whether they’re running Windows 7, 8, or 10 to me.

  6. Swapnil Bandiwadekar

    Or how about I will still buy a new PC with W8.1 because I will get an update later instead of W10 PC later? And if W10 turns out to be better than W8.1 then it will boost sales of new hardware, considering the fact that many didn’t buy new PCs because W8.1 was a disaster. And, the hardware “made for W10” will always be better than the hardware “eligible” for W10. So, people will naturally buy new gen hardware and W10’s performance will bring in more customers.

    • Agreed. That’s one of the reasons why I haven’t bought a new laptop in years – I just don’t want Windows 8/8.1. But if I can get Windows 10 running on it, a new Broadwell system now sounds VERY attractive. And I suspect many current Windows 7 users are thinking the same – new OS = new hardware.