by Gordon Kelly via Forbes

Windows 10 is famously ‘free’, but Microsoft has been worryingly silent about just how free it really is. Now, only three weeks before release, leaks suggest ‘free’ Windows 10 might not be a good deal at all…

The news comes from ComputerWorld which attained Microsoft internal slides that strongly suggest many Windows 10 owners will have to start paying to receive updates within two years. The key lines ComputerWorld discovered are:

“Revenue allocated is deferred and recognized on a straight-line basis over the estimated period the software upgrades are expected to be provided by estimated device life…. [The estimated device life] can range from two to four years.”

‘Device life’ is the key phrase here. Microsoft has already stated revenue earned from Windows 10 must be deferred because of the free upgrade model (cash isn’t taken upfront), but it repeatedly stressed Windows 10 owners can expect to get free updates for the “supported lifetime of the device”.

The problem is Microsoft hadn’t defined how long the ‘supported lifetime of the device’ will be and now we see it: “two to four years”.

A Two Year Con?

So what does “two to four years” mean? Is it two or is it four?

Again the slides help – and surprise. In a change of language Microsoft states device lifetime will be determined by “customer type” whereas it had previously stated it would be determined by “form factor”.

This is crucial. ‘Form factor’ could mean a phone where two years of support isn’t great, but survivable and similarly four years support for a tablet or PC isn’t great but it is survivable. But defining by ‘customer type’ invokes Microsoft’s two main customer licence types: Home (average consumer) and Professional (prosumer/business).

By this new definition “two to four years” would mean two years free support for Windows 10 Home users regardless of their device type and up to four years free support for Windows 10 Pro users regardless of their device type.

Two years free support on a PC is garbage. It would see Windows 10 free support expire in 2017 while Windows 7 and Windows 8 free support doesn’t expire until January 2020 and 2023 respectively.

It also opens up an even bigger question: what follows the expiry of free support?

There are several ways of looking at this. Most charitably Microsoft could release ‘Windows 10.1’ and then kickstart another two years of free support, the same again for ‘Windows 10.2’ and so on which pushes users to keep updating. It’s a nice thought, but Microsoft already has a strict threat in place for those who lag behind.

The other perspective returns us to the “deferred revenue” Microsoft says it will encounter with Windows 10.

The interesting part is Microsoft claims the money it loses from the free upgrades will be made up within three years. If there’s a free upgrade plus two years of free support (for all consumers) then the introduction of subscription based charging, this suddenly fits together and angry conspiracy theories run wild.


What To Believe

So what’s the answer?  Frustratingly, infuriatingly, mystifyingly we have no way of knowing because – even with just three weeks to go before launch – Microsoft’s controlled drip feed of Windows 10 information shows no sign of speeding up.

Yes it’s mad. Microsoft is releasing arguably the most important version of Windows in its history this month and we don’t know how long it will be supported or what future costs we will be charged after this unknown period. Instead Microsoft simply keeps shouting:

“It’s Free! It’s Free! It’s Free!*”

(*for the lifetime of the device – and we won’t define ‘lifetime’ or what happens after that)


This sucks. It sucks because there could be a perfectly good explanation but Microsoft is not being open about it.

It sucks because upgrading Windows versions is not an easy task for many users and even more of a hassle to downgrade if users find they’ve been shortchanged. And it really sucks for those who buy a new Windows 10 PC and are locked into the unknown.

But most tragically it sucks because Windows 10 is actually a great OS. Throughout my participation in the Windows Insider testers program it has been the fastest, most stable series of Windows betas I’ve used, but Microsoft may be about to hamstring the whole thing.

Promising ‘Free Windows 10′ then delivering ’Freemium-Windows-10-Get-Your-Credit-Cards-Out-In-Two-Years’ would be a disaster and right now Microsoft’s ongoing silence about how everything works feels ever more suspicious.

Ultimately the company is either playing us or its naivety is now bordering on idiotic. It’s a crazy situation to be in where we all have to hope and pray it is the latter…

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