Windows as a service: What's Threshold got to do with it?

Windows as a service: What's Threshold got to do with it?

Summary: Microsoft's next major Windows release is rumored to have some connection to a 'Windows as a Service' concept. But WaaS may not be what many think.


As we inch closer to the first big reveal of Windows Threshold -- expected on September 30 in the form of an enterprise technical preview -- rumors are flying about the role of "the cloud" in the coming Windows release.

No doubt there will be OneDrive integration with Windows Threshold, the next version of Windows which (in spite of a Microsoft China "leak") may or may not be called Windows 9 in the spring of 2015 when it's targeted to be available. There will be Skype integration. I wouldn't be surprised to see figuring in there somehow. And there has been talk about some kind of new backup capabilities, likely coming from the Azure side of the house... 

But there have also been not-so-secret mentions of something called "Windows as a Service" that Microsoft watchers are linking to Windows Threshold. I've seen a few speculate that this means there is something in the works akin to an Office 365-type subscription pricing/service for Threshold.

As I've blogged before, I've heard from my contacts that there is no such thing as "Windows 365" -- beyond a school project by that name created by some masters students in the Netherlands.

That said, maybe Microsoft officials will decide at some point to turn Windows updates and patches into a paid service, but so far, that decision hasn't been made, I continue to hear from my contacts. Microsoft typically decides on pricing, SKUs and packaging toward the end of a Windows development cycle, so it's not surprising there's not yet final word as to how and how much Microsoft plans to charge Windows 7/8 users for Windows Threshold (if anything) and subsequent updates to it.

From what I'm hearing, Windows as a Service, or WaaS, is about how Microsoft plans to deliver updates and new features to users, but more from an internal-facing perspective. Starting with Threshold, Microsoft plans to "flight" new features with different subsets of customers, my sources say, so that the operating systems group can determine which changes are well-received and which aren't. Other cloud-centric teams at Microsoft, like Bing, Azure and Yammer, already do this kind of testing and continuous deployment. It's connected to Microsoft's increasing push to use telemetry data and direct feedback to tweak products on the fly.

I'd originally heard from my sources that the coming Threshold tech preview would require users to opt into all monthly updates to Threshold. But now I am hearing the monthly updates will be optional. Those who do opt in will get updates, as well as builds with features that work differently depending on the user. Some subsets of users might get a new feature; others may not. Microsoft will be gathering this "flighting" data to compare differently configured versions of the OS on different devices. Ultimately, the idea is the best configuration will win.

One last point worth noting here: Just because Microsoft is using this kind of flighting/deployment approach in the preview/test phase of Threshold doesn't mean it will continue to do so once the product ships. Microsoft has a diverse set of customers, including many in the enterprise who may not be ready, willing or able to be on the latest versions of the bits as soon as they're pushed out.

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Windows 8, Windows Phone, Windows Server


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • What...?

    The title asks what Threshold has to do with Windows as a Service. The article can then be summed up in three words: "most likely nothing".

    It's pretty much "speculation was about XXX, but all sources and evidence says no. But it might still happen !!!1!!!!!111!1!!one!!!!111!".
    Dear Holy Stasis
    • What I got...

      ...from the article was that WaaS is not a paid subscription like Office 365 but a methodology of rapid updates that should show up in the Threshold beta program but might not past the beta with the release of W9. With that take, the title makes perfect sense.
      Rann Xeroxx
  • windows in the cloud

    Needs some optimizations for efficiently running in VMs. A lot of the background processes baked into Windows for optimizing a desktop are counter productive in VMs.
    • Depends...

      A perfect example of a optimized virtual Windows setup would be Windows Terminal Server, where your VM is really just another Windows session. Most people don't realize that when they log into Windows client they are actually running a session as there really is not much core difference between Windows client and server. Same with RDP.

      If you simply install a Windows client into a "dumb" hypervisor then you will not get any optimizations between clients.
      Rann Xeroxx

    I would hope that this is something that can be hidden/removed for small business and enterprise customers. I don't dislike it in principle, but if you're on an Office 365 subscription against an Exchange store, why would you want an account popping up all over your installation?
  • No subscription for me

    Adobe wants Photoshop users to pay monthly, Microsoft wants to have Office users pay monthly, EA is now pushing gamers to pay monthly for their EA Access, and now rumors say Windows may become a monthly fee as well. It can all be summed up by one word: greed. Unless you make a product that is heavily server based (like an MMO) then you should NOT be pushing a subscription model, and I certainly will never subscribe to that. If they thought too many people refused to update to Windows 8, asking them to start paying monthly will just push many more to stay with their current version.
    • Yes and no

      I totally agree with your displeasure about other SAAS schemes from the likes of Adobe and others, but I think Windows could actually work. Adobe's service costs users a significant chunk of money - upwards of $600+ per year, and should a user stop paying, they totally loose access to everything. Add that most users typically skipped a version or two, and this has resulted in a greater expense to the end user.

      Windows, on the other hand, would have to be different. They simple could not stop a system from functioning if a user stopped paying for the service - no one in their right mind, from MS to the system manufacturer to the end user would accept such a scenario. Second, Windows updates have typically cost about $100 every 3 years, so we're really only talking $30 a year here.

      I would have no problem paying $30 a year for essentially a rolling, continuous upgrade. Paying yearly would be worth the expense even if all it did was avoid the hassle of a monolithic OS upgrade.
    • It's all greed.

      Adobe, Windows, Office, Could this and that, per month, year, whatever doesn't mater soon no one will be able to afford to turn the device on.

      I'd gladly pay for the software and upgrade when I can, as I've always done, it's your choice software makers something or nothing.
      • All profit is greed

        You get paid for your work because you are greedy. You want to get as much money from your employer (or customers if you are in business for yourself) as you can, most people want to do so as ethically and morally as possible.

        Businesses are no different in their greed as compared to yours.
        Rann Xeroxx
        • All profit is greed

          "All profit is greed"


          Profit is good and necessary.

          Greed is a whole different animal.
          • Profit is good, greed is different

            At what point does profit turn in to greed? My belief is that it is greed when you resort to unethical behavior to get your profit. Price your product higher because you think people will pay more and trying to maximize your profit is not greed. Selling defective or substandard product without the customers knowledge is greed.
    • It's not necessarily GREED. Any business selling any product has to ...

      ... have a steady flow of income to keep improving the product. You can do that by releasing a new version every three years (as has been the model with Microsoft) or annually (like Apple), or you can have a subscription fee.

      In the case of MS Office, it is less expensive to subscribe to Office 365 than it is to upgrade to the latest Office Pro every three years. ($70 per year = $210 instead of $500). If you own 5 computers, the savings is much larger. ($100 per year = $300 instead of $2500).

      With a subscription the Office code you have is ALWAYS up to date and instead of having to update Office every six years or so, you can pay $420 for one machine or $600 for up to five machines.

      No matter how you shake it, it is better than buying Office for $500 (per seat) and having to replace it every so often.

      Of course, if you only need the basics (Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint, and Word) you can use those - plus - for free.
      M Wagner
    • Depends

      It's not necessarily greed. As an example, I use MS Office on 3 PC's, a Macbook, and a phone. The $95-$100 a year subscription to get Office on all those devices, plus skype time, plus additional onedrive space, plus the ability to add up to 5 users with their own onedrive space, etc... is WAY cheaper than buying Office individually and then keeping it upgraded for that many devices.

      So, in certain circumstances like this, it's not greed, it's a steady flow of income rather than once every 3-5 years selling an upgrade. It's cheaper for me on a sub than it ever was before.
    • Unless a product is heavily server based

      How about updates? It cost a lot to release updates and add features. Shouldn't they get paid for that? I understand that patches is just fixes errors and any company that stands behind their products should provide those for free for a certain time. However, Microsoft's new model is to constantly update their OS. You no longer wait 3 years for the next version. SO, isn't fair that they charge say $100 per year, instead of $300 every three years? Plus, I'm pretty sure you will get server usage since they will offer OneDrive, Outlook, Skype, etc. integrated into the OS and will provide a certain quality of those services for free. You say Microsoft is greedy. How about all the users who are upset that Microsoft isn't supporting XP? They got 10 years of free support and they think Microsoft is greedy for ending support. Windows 7 has received 5 years of free support and will receive security patches up to 2020, but people are upset about that as well and call Microsoft greedy. Most people got their version of windows installed with the computer and the OEM probably paid less than $100 for the license and people expect Microsoft to provide support forever for that $100.
  • windows 9

    I can't believe that Microsoft would be stupid enough to think that businesses are going to jump right on windows 9 because it is different. I guess Microsoft can't get it through their heads that businesses can't afford to change OS's every couple of yrs..what are they thinking??

    Also I think that if they decide to charge for updates..well that will be the end of that...people are not going to do that...what is Microsoft doing??..promoting
    • We are going to Windows 9

      We have already started the ground work with getting IE11 as our standard to prep for W9 and possibly IE12. We are testing out hybrids and 2:1s as standard placement. Even planning to send a lot of people to the next (not)TechEd in Chicago in 2015 for training and such.

      We would have deployed 8 if we were not already on 7, we would have simply installed Classic Shell (free for enterprise use) to get around Metro.

      Also note that we support more then one OS at one time. XP is almost gone so as we by new PCs, we simply use the OEM license with the new PCs.
      Rann Xeroxx
      • Spell Check...

        by = buy. Hate that ZDNet does not allow edits.
        Rann Xeroxx
      • So your company mantra is were upgrading hell or high water?

        Sounds like you don't let things like pesky facts get in way of your upgrade decisions to the latest operating systems from Microsoft. Love truly is blind.

        "Yep, we tried to destroy our company by upgrading to Windows 8 but dammit we already had Windows 7 installed". LOL. Unless of course the company is McDonalds. Then putting that on the cash registers for the teeny boppers with all the oversized tiles makes sense.
        • Oversized tiles?

          Those tiles can be resized. At the smallest they are only slightly bigger than a windows 7 icon. The start screen is just a full screen version of the start menu and underneath it all you are still running basically windows 7 with some optimizations and improved functions. I'm amazed people are so hung up on having a full screen launcher. As if the start menu was the best launcher ever. Android is basically a full screen launcher too with several screens. Go to chrome OS and look at the full screen launcher and the size of the icons there. No one complains there.
    • You don't understand how Enterprises buy...

      software especially Microsoft software. Any business with at least 250 employees would buy through an Enterprise Agreement which is typically a three year agreement. The initial year the customer pays for the License and Software the remaining years and upon renewal the customer pays only Software Assurance. With Software Assurance the customer has access to all future versions of the software they originally purchased as long as they are under the Enterprise Agreement. These agreements can provide the licenses as a perpetual license or through a subscription. The differences between these are when you stop subscribing you also lose ALL RIGHTS to use the software vs. a perpetual licenses that you have the rights to use in perpetuity. Upgrade rights are usually talked about with regards to perpetual licenses with active Software Assurance. Subscription based agreements allow the customers to have an ALWAYS updated software experience especially if it's provided as a services such as Office365 or Azure. A customer that doesn't stay current will likely start to incur additional costs in administrating and managing older software or not saving by taking advantages in some of the newer features in the new software.