Microsoft's Windows 9: Much ado about little, given cloud shift

Microsoft's Windows 9: Much ado about little, given cloud shift

Summary: Windows 9 will be important---if only to put Windows 8 to bed---but could be the last of Microsoft's big bang OS releases if CEO Satya Nadella's cloud-centric plan works out well.


Microsoft will reportedly launch Windows 9 on September 30 and could ultimately be known as the last of the software giant's big bang operating system releases.

According to The Verge, Microsoft will feature "Threshold," or Windows 9 on Sept. 30. Mary Jo Foley reported last week that Microsoft would preview what will be Windows 9 later in September.

While the Windows 9 christening will kick off a march to a general public roll out in spring of 2015, it's worth outlining why the operating system is strategic today, but a mere transition product if you zoom out beyond two years.

Windows 9 is likely to be a mere bridge to Microsoft's big cloud and productivity strategy.

The Wall Street Journal asked whether Microsoft needed all the hubbub around Windows 9. The short answer is yes — for now.

In a short-term lens, Windows 9 is critical because:

  • Microsoft needs to put the Windows 8 launch to bed to get us talking about something other than Vista analogies;
  • The software giant needs to refine Windows to be both touch and non-touch friendly;
  • Windows needs to hook into Microsoft's platform and productivity mantra;
  • And Windows needs to lay the groundwork for a faster development cadence as well as a cloud approach.

In other words, Windows 9's codename Threshold is on target. Windows 9 is the bridge between Microsoft's past of big bang releases and a licensing model to one focused on the cloud, innovation that's easier to consume, and services.

Foley noted last week:

In a move that signals where Microsoft is heading on the "servicability" front, those who install the tech preview will need to agree to have subsequent monthly updates to it pushed to them automatically, sources added.

Should CEO Satya Nadella's master plan work out, a Windows 10 launch should be a quiet one. Why? We'll all simply pay Microsoft a $20-a-year subscription for updates, new features, and perhaps some online storage. Microsoft's Windows future could resemble a SaaS model with twice-a-year feature releases that serve as an onramp to other services.

Debate: Satya Nadella's brave new strategy: Can Microsoft execute?

In the future, Microsoft will give us Windows (either free or at a nominal fee) and upsell us other services.

Let's get real: Microsoft's future is much more Office 365 and Azure than Windows. Subscriptions will trump paying Microsoft money for the privilege of installing the company's latest operating system. Windows needs to provide a good experience, but financially and strategically the OS will become less important over time.

Rest assured that Windows 9 will give us features that'll be enticing — assuming the hardware matches. The storyline will revolve around whether Windows 9 can be a Windows 7-like release that puts a previous clunker to bed. Yes, Windows 8.1 has cured a lot of ills, but a new release is needed for Microsoft to move on from what turned out to be a ballsy, but too bold user interface turn.

Microsoft CEO Nadella: 'We will reinvent productivity'

I know what you're thinking: Who would subscribe to Windows? We all would. We're paying Dropbox, Box, Amazon and Google subscriptions as well as Microsoft. I'd pay Microsoft an annual fee if they could give me something fun like Cortana every six months. Meanwhile, incremental Windows would save me from the indigestion that comes with big bang releases.

As for the subscription model to Windows, consider the following:

  1. I subscribe to Windows releases annually. 
  2. The numbers---Windows 9, 10, 11---fade away because Windows is as easy as a browser update. 
  3. At some point where the hardware requirements change (perhaps every three years), Microsoft on its own stops charging me the subscription until I buy a new PC.

At $20 a year, Microsoft would net $60 over three years. For consumers who bought Windows XP and kept it for a decade that $60 in revenue over three years looks pretty good. That math is rough, but you get the idea. Microsoft's biggest issue going forward will be that big bang releases don't fly in a cloud-centric world. Incremental updates will trump kitchen sink applications and operating systems every time.

Windows 9 will hopefully be the last kitchen sink OS we get from Microsoft.


Topics: Cloud, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Subscribe?

    Seriously? The whole point of the cloud was to facilitate sharing. It sure wasn't to get shafted when it comes to basic functionality. Why do I need to subscribe to an OS to make my PC work to play my MP4 file? It's ironic that Linux might just end up as the last sane operating system - not because it's more user friendly, but because its competitors have self-destructed.

    There will always be two kinds of people: whose who lease or finance a car, and those who save up and pay cash, even if for a used one. And let me assure you, the freedom of knowing you don't have a monthly payment is beyond liberating.
    • It doesn't actually exist

      This is some guys hypothetical and nothing Microsoft has even hinted at.
      Buster Friendly
      • And it won't exist

        Not competitive. Compare the pricing to any competing platform - this would instantly make Android and OS X the default home OSes. If Microsoft would want that, why would they have spent 10 billion on Windows Phone so far.
        Just this quote from the author says it all: "Who would subscribe to Windows? We all would. We're paying Dropbox, Box, Amazon and Google subscriptions as well as Microsoft."
        We all would - No.
        We're paying Dropbox - No.
        Box - No.
        Amazon - No.
        and Google subscriptions - No.
        • I was thinking exactly the same thing when I read that.

          "Who would subscribe to Windows? We all would. We're paying Dropbox, Box, Amazon and Google subscriptions as well as Microsoft."

          My only computer / data related monthly expense are:
          1) DSL line.
          2) Data via my phone plan.

          That is it. If I have to pay monthly for something I don't need it.
        • "Compare the pricing to any competing platform..."

          What competing platforms? Windows has always been the only truly paid operating system on the market. Linux has been free forever and Apple only charges for upgrades, which is pretty much a subscription with the option to cancel. 6 of one, half a dozen of the other.
          • Apple OS is not free

            When Apple sells you the hardware, they have already included the cost of OS into the price just like you go out and buy a PC, the cost of windows is already included. The difference is MS sells retail version so you can see the price of the OS by itself. Apple doesn't sell retail version and so you have no idea how much they charge you for the OS in the Mac.
          • You can get the current version of Mac OS X for free

            Just go to the Mac App Store on a Mac running Mac OS 10.6.6 or newer. Of course you need to make sure your Mac meets the system requirements for the current OS.
          • What if you are running older versions of OSX? 10.6.6 is not neqarly ...

            ... as old as Windows XP and everyone is upset because Microsoft no longer supports XP. How come nobody criticizes Apple for their insanely short support lifecycles?
            M Wagner
          • M Wagner

            The ultimate Microsoft Fangirl.

            XP was supported longer because Vista was super late and a TOTAL FAILURE.

            My daughter has a iMac we bought for the house in August of 2008 and it came with OS X 10.5 and it current is running OS X 10.9. Before it was free (10.8 and up) a 5-pack of OS X cost $19.
          • To Add To That Point...

            The current sales model involves buying a computer for which the license for Windows has already been included in the cost. Under a subscription model, the OEM's would no longer have to include that price into their computers. That means prices for computers drops, and in some cases, for entry level laptops, it could mean substantial price drops because it could effectively cut the price by a third or more.
          • You do realize

            That OEM's pay very little for a copy of Windows?
            Any if you think there will be a price drop, think again, the OEM's will suck up the extra as a cushion to their already razor thin profit margins on PCs
            x-windows user
          • You can guess. Apple notebook computers start at ...

            ... $899. Equally powerful Windows notebooks start around $350. It is a safe bet that OSX costs about $120. This is just about what Apple charged users for upgrades to OSX just five years ago. And, if you want security updates, Apple forces you to upgrade to ever other version.

            Microsoft provides security updates for ten years.
            M Wagner
          • No

            there are no "equally powerful" PCs at that price point. There are PCs at that price point, but they tend to be considerably more low end.... and I suspect you well know it.
          • Equally powerful?

            Equally powerful? Seriously?
          • There is a difference

            as a Mac owner, major OS X upgrades don't cost you anything. Zero. Nada.

            Major Windows upgrades cost PC owners. The cheapest it has ever gotten was the $40 Win8 upgrade, a temporary price.

            So as much as people complain about XP's support length dwarfing any specific OS X version, it is an apples and oranges scenario, as there are no cost barriers to upgrade with OS X (they will drop your Mac model, but that can take up to seven years to happen.)
          • Clueless

            Yes OS X come with the hardware. I have a iMac from 2008 that came with OS X 10.5. It has since seen 10.6 (small cost), 10.7 (small cost), 10.8 free upgrade, 10.9 free upgrade. Hopefully the hardware is still supported by 10.10 which will be free. If not this 6 year old Mac will stay with 10.9 until it dies.
          • Linux - always free?

            Depends on how you look at it. Back in the Red Hat 5 days, I purchased boxed sets of releases and releases until they went to a subscription model. I also purchased boxed sets of Mandrake until they changed their model.

            If, when Microsoft changes to a subscription model, I would probably reduce Windows licenses to only one computer. Unfortunately, I do have to keep a Windows XP installation handy for one application to support a piece of audio equipment that is perfectly fine and too expensive to replace.
          • nothing wrong with XP.

            My daughters have an XP laptop.. I've removed every link to IE, OE and anything else patched by Microsoft, The firewall is on.. and so is Chrome and a bunch of kids learning apps... I'd argue that in that state it's essentially a Chromebook and would be close to as hard to hack as any other chromebook.

            Google should actually be telling people that far and wide.. "Make your XP machine secure by just using it as a chromebook. They could even make a version of Chome for XP users that actually lock down the OS a heap making it as secure as it can be and with built in malware scanning and IDS system. It's an idea anyway. How many of XP's recent flaws would have mattered to users if you didn't use flash, java, IE/OE/IIS etc? If you used Chrome and none of the built in networked apps.. and your SP3 firewall was fully stealthed.. what exactly would be your exposure?

            The problem with Windows 8 and 9, is that there isn't anything majorly wrong with Windows 7.. so it's hard to justify to people that they need to buy and learn a new OS for their desktop. The subscription model will only because it will be part of the OEM experience they already paid for it as part of the PC and it probably won't be talked about much pre-sale.. I'd imagine loads of people will only find out they don't a copy of windows when the time runs out and their PC stops working.
          • Agreed on one point. There is no compelling reason ...

            ... for a Windows 7 user to upgrade. Most consumers don't upgrade their OS until they buy a new PC. I expect that most consumers upgrade their PCs every seven years.

            The bottom line is that every company needs a steady flow of income to stay in business. It is much harder to maintain a steady flow on a three-year product lifecycle than by selling subscriptions. MS Office Pro costs $500 every time you buy a new PC. The same code costs $70 per year for a single PC. Over seven years, the subscription cost is $490.

            If you own more than one PC, buying Office will cost you $1000+. Subscribing to Office will cost you $700 over that same seven years. That's a good buy.

            Can you buy the same PC with Windows and pay nothing for open source software? Sure you can - but most consumers DON'T.
            M Wagner
          • Maybe we are not all rich?

            You talk as if is so easy to be paying for all these subscriptions. Economy is trashed, which simply put means not everyone can just keep paying subscriptions and also pay their normal living expenses in relation to food and housing.

            Personally, seeing that I am not Richy Rich, I use LibreOffice which is in close relation to Windows Office. Only difference is that is up to date and not 3 years behind. Also is used on Linux. OpenOffice can also be used on Windows systems which is also very comparable to MS Office. I do not pay a dime, when updates come in, I simply agree to let it update. Using LibreOffice is not entirely different from using MS Office minus it does not error out as much.

            Whenever I have had to create documents or spreadsheets for Windows users I simply used the option to save in Windows formats. Windows users can than view all the work created in MS Office. Most of Windows documents I receive can also be viewed in LibreOffice. Presentations are problems since Windows has not updated those features in 3 years, so does present problems! Vica Versa if I create a presentation since for some stupid reason MS insists on using wav instead of mp3, some archeac idea leftover from 2003.

            In conclusion, I do not pay a dime for Office, yet I have very close to the same exact program, but is more up to date??? Honestly, I think am doing better this way, right? Only subscriptions I pay are for Electricity, food, satellite and taxes. I put it this way, since subscription is just another word for bill. Do not know about everyone out there, but I know some of us just can not afford more bills!