Microsoft Windows As A Service Planned? - InformationWeek

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8/25/2014
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Microsoft Windows As A Service Planned?

Microsoft may be working on a cloud-based version of Windows to go alongside Office 365. What would be in it for customers?

that customers stay up to date: In order to keep receiving updates, those who upgraded to Windows 8.1 must move to Windows 8.1 Update.

In an admitted effort to address persistent online rumors that Microsoft was preparing an Update 2, Microsoft senior marketing communications manager Brandon LeBlanc somewhat nebulously declared last month that, rather than releasing features in large chunks, Microsoft will begin to issue them in monthly updates, just as it does with security patches. Microsoft's advertising also regularly mentions the "the new Windows," instead of Windows 8. That could be merely an attempt to distance newer updates from Win 8's notoriously bad reputation -- but it could also be a sign that Microsoft is planning to drop version numbers as it moves to a rapid-release model.

None of this necessarily adds up to a subscription-based, cloud-oriented version of Windows. But the concept continues to appear in online rumors, including some attributed to WZor, a Russian group known to have previously leaked accurate pre-release Windows information. According to these rumors, Microsoft could introduce a free basic version of Windows that would be locally installed and offer additional service and features through the cloud.

Though it's not clear what kind of offline functionality such a cloud-oriented OS might offer, or how it might differ from current desktop-as-a-service products, Microsoft has recently demonstrated its willingness to tinker with the place of Windows in its revenue streams. In a policy enacted this year, the company now gives away the OS to manufacturers making smartphones and small tablets. It also introduced low-cost Windows with Bing to help OEMs produce more $200 and $300 notebooks and two-in-one devices. The company also already offers subscription-like Windows plans to enterprises through its Software Assurance program and enterprise licensing agreements.

Still, if Microsoft announced Windows 365 or something similar, it would face a number of challenges. It might seem ideal to have a version of Windows that functions like Office 365, in which the latest and greatest features are continually rolled out via the cloud. But would such a system cause trouble for the custom-built line-of-business apps on which many enterprises rely? Microsoft can try to make Windows more secure, but it can't control how well its corporate customers' in-house apps are written, after all.

Despite the jobs postings and rumors, some commentators are not convinced Windows will follow Office to the cloud. ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, who has a good track record for pre-release Windows information, said in May that, according to her sources, Microsoft is not planning a subscription-based version of its OS.

Readers, let's hear from you. Would you be interested in a cloud- or subscription-based version of Windows?

If the world wasn't changing, we might continue to view IT purely as a service organization, and ITSM might be the most important focus for IT leaders. But it's not, it isn't, and it won't be -- at least not in its present form. Get the Research: Beyond IT Service Management report today (free registration required).

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
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8/26/2014 | 7:26:39 PM
Re: If Microsoft is all in on the cloud, so is Windows
With Apple offering OS X updates for free and Google offering Chrome OS for free, I have trouble coming up with a price structure for Windows as a service. 

Has Microsoft considered Windows as a loss-leader?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 4:07:24 PM
Re: Eventually
@jagibbons: Indeed. Wzor, whose account most strongly suggests an OS that actually relies on the cloud for extended functionality, brought up this question, and said he didn't know the answer. That could imply his report is B.S., that he doesn't have deep enough Microsoft access for more details (that's seemed to have been the case before), or that Microsoft is still tinkering with this aspect.

But maybe there will be benefits that will compensate for lack of offline functionality, at least for some users. It's not clear, as I mentioned in my other post in this thread, whether this could be a mainstream product, or some kind of niche option designed for mobile enterprise users and institutions. I still think that in the short term, Microsoft's biggest Windows move will probably just be the switch to a rapid release update model-- but these job postings make me wonder if something even more unexpected might be in the offing too.

Here's my bet: If Microsoft were to release some cloud-focused version of Windows, it will have to have decent offline capability; otherwise, Microsoft will look ridiculous for having perpetuated the stereotype that Chromebooks need the Internet to be productive. It's not quite as ridiculous as Steve Ballmer saying the iPhone would achieve "zero market share," but imagine this: Microsoft says Chromebooks are garbage, and then starts pushing a version of Windows that suffers from the same alleged flaws as Chrome OS?! How would Nadella or Myerson or whoever talk his way through that?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 3:54:56 PM
Re: Eventually
@Terry: Those are the same questions I've run into whenever someone's said, "Office went cloud, so Windows will too." That Windows will be intimately tied to the cloud via services (e.g. OneDrive, Skype, etc.) is beyond serious dispute. But conceding that point isn't the same thing as expecting Windows 365. As you say, how would such a service be implemented? Via thin clients as we currently think of them? But if Microsoft's goals for the product are more mainstream, how that work? While the idea has appeal at a high level, it's hard to sort out the bits and pieces, unless Microsoft ends up introducing it as a very niche service that might grow over time.


The rumors are all over the place. Some describe it as an enterprise-oriented virtual desktop service, some describe it as a mainstream option in which something like Windows 7 Starter comes on the device, and people add extra bits - for a price - through the cloud. Some of these reports also mention subscriptions.

While I can imagine use cases for some of this, I see enormous potential for consumers to feel nickel-and-dimed if Microsoft tries to make this flavor of Windows the mainstream option. Yeah, you can draw comparisons between this device and something like an Android tablet or iPad, in which the OS is factored into the initial device price, can be augmented with cloud features, and isn't ever really a cost concern again as long as the device remains technically up-to-snuff. But those platforms walked into new markets, without legacy customers to drag along. Not so for Windows. I think the importance of this distinction has already manifested in many ways, such as users' refusal to ditch Windows XP. It's obvious that Microsoft wants to deploy Windows updates the way it deploys Azure and Office updates, in a continual stream of improvements, rather than discrete chunks. But do subscriptions follow? Does it make sense to locate part of the OS in the cloud, and part of it on the device, as WZor seems to suggest? I guess we'll see.


What I know is this: The job postings are legitimate, and do not seem to describe an existing Windows service or product. Microsoft also modified the wording of the most recent job posting as soon as the media started catching wind of it. Could be benign stuff that just happens to look suspicious because it overlaps with rumors. But it also looks like Microsoft is planning something.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2014 | 11:53:10 AM
Re: If Microsoft is all in on the cloud, so is Windows
Perhaps Satya Nadella is the CEO with the background to sell this idea to the troops internally.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
8/25/2014 | 9:14:48 PM
If Microsoft is all in on the cloud, so is Windows
To become an "all-in" company when it comes to cloud, Microsoft will almost certainly have to provide Windows as a service.
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