If you’ve been living under a rock for the past 7 days or so, you probably missed the reports claiming that Microsoft is working on a free version of Windows that could come with almost the same feature lineup as the original paid package.
Of course, every time someone says “Windows for free,” the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind is a pirated copy of the operating system that has been around for so many years, but never with a freeware license.
There’s no doubt that Windows continues to rule the desktop world and it’ll continue to do so for many years from now, even though many people and analysts across the world think that Windows will slowly lose customer appeal and experience a massive decline due to the changes that Microsoft makes to the traditional desktop.
Windows 8 is a fairly expensive operating system, with the core license retailing for $119.99 (€90), while the Professional version comes with a price of $199.99 (€150), so this could actually be one of the reasons why it has until now failed to excite and convince more users to upgrade. Of course, with this in mind, a free version of Windows pretty much makes sense.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is
But let’s not forget that Windows remains Microsoft’s flagship product, even though some investors are trying to change that, so the company clearly needs to monetize it as much as possible. Truth is, the consumer business is not quite Microsoft’s main focus right now, but the new CEO Satya Nadella said on several occasions that, in addition to innovation, bringing consumers closer is a top priority in the next few years.
So, according to all these rumors that reached the web lately, Microsoft is planning to build a free version of Windows specifically for customers and OEMs that would agree to install an operating system with Bing branding on their devices. These OEMs would most likely get this Windows build for free in an attempt to keep prices of their devices as low as possible and thus boost adoption of Microsoft’s modern operating system. That makes sense.
But there is one thing that everyone should take into account when talking about a free Windows version.
If this particular version is being called “Windows 8.1 with Bing,” there’s no doubt that in one way or another you’ll get to see Bing products wherever you click. And, like that wasn’t enough, you’ll also see ads. That’s right, ads. Everywhere. In apps, in Control Panel, on the Start screen.
That’s actually a concept that already works for some other manufacturers and might do the job for Microsoft as well, but the free Windows won’t be free. Microsoft won’t force you to pay for a license to use Windows, but it’ll still get the money from you whenever you click on an ad. And you’ll definitely click on ads, probably in 99 percent of the cases accidentally, but you’ll still click them.
Microsoft is a business that needs to be profitable
In the end, if the free Windows version is successful enough, it might actually generate more money than the traditional package that requires you to pay for a license.
While a free version of Windows pretty much makes sense for users, there’s no doubt that Microsoft needs to sell as many copies of the operating system as possible, as it needs to stay in the business and, obviously, remain profitable.
Former CEO Steve Ballmer said in mid-2013 that Microsoft was the most profitable company of the tech giants on the market, including Google and Apple, so it’s pretty clear that a Windows version that would be completely free wouldn’t make much sense in such a context.
So Microsoft needs in one way or another to make the most out of Windows and the only way to monetize a so-called free build would be through ads and incentives implemented via Bing products.
Windows will never be like Linux
If you're taking all of these into account, there’s no doubt that Windows for free will never exist. Not even in your dreams. Windows will never be like Linux to be offered completely free of charge, ad-free, and with all the features available in the other paid versions for the sole reason that Microsoft is just a company that, at the end of the day, needs to be profitable.
On the other hand, an ad-based version of Windows shouldn’t take too long to crack, so apps to block ads and create a cleaner experience would definitely enjoy a terrific success. So, in one way or another, Windows will still be pirated, even if it’s going to be “free.” Which makes the entire concept obsolete.
The bottom line is that Windows, with or without ads, will never come free of charge, no matter what some people think or need.
A free copy of Windows 8.1 would clearly be a major hit for Microsoft and there’s no doubt that users would love it, but an ad-based version might actually cause even more problems to the company. So, in the end, Redmond should really think twice before making such a bold decision.