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
    • I would find it hard to beleive Windows as a service yet.

      I suspect by Windows 10, there will be some kind of option to get Windows as a service. I think it depends how that does that will guide Microsoft as to how they would like to proceed.

      Two things will obviously guide their decision making process.

      Firstly, if there is a particularly vocal rejection to Windows as a service when its offered, that's going to be a big problem for Microsoft. And how deep and loud and long such a vocal rebuke may or may not be, will probably be dependent on a significant number of things, many of which we probably cant predict because they don't exist yet, and some of which will never have a chance of happening unless and until Windows as a service comes into being. So that's really hard to predict as to what will happen with that.

      Secondly, and its actually a biggy, is the question of how badly the XP effect is affecting Microsoft at that point from it occurring in previous Windows versions, from Windows 7 on, and how much profit Microsoft feels they are losing due to people hanging onto legacy versions of Windows forever. If people hang onto versions 7, 8, and 9 simply because their hardware is running great still after 5, 6, 7 years or more, and of course Windows itself dosnt wear out, Microsoft will be very very attracted to Windows as a service that they can charge by subscription for on a regular basis.

      Its very easy to see the direction, and why Microsoft is heading there, but its very difficult to know for sure if they can get there with public opinion, or how big an impact lost revenue due to the XP effect will be hurting them. Obviously, if they really feel that the XP effect is really starting to wound them by that point, its a huge variable that will drive a lot of their thinking.

      I personally have no interest in turning over practically my entire computing experience and responsibility for that to the cloud. To Microsoft, Apple, Google or anyone.
  • 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.
      • Your so wrong in so many ways.

        You must live in a dreamland.

        Are you completely naïve PC987???????????????????

        "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."

        Ha! You didn't even think about that at all when you wrote it did you???

        All you thought is, I need my computer, they cant ever be allowed to just shut off my OS!!!!

        Think about this PC987. What you do before you EVER write such a silly thing as "They simple could not stop a system from functioning" is you compare the situation to LIFE.

        Things you should already be 100% aware of in LIFE, particularly if you are operating a computer when you are writing.

        They shut off all sorts and kinds of things in LIFE when you stop paying and they do it for things immensely more important to every living soul. You need your water and lights and electricity right?? Particularly as your computer wont work without electricity right??

        Well ya, stop paying for your electricity or water and see how long you get to keep getting those services. Stop paying for storage for a storage locker and see how difficult it suddenly gets to get your own stuff out of that service locker. Stop paying for cable TV and see how many programs your television shows you. Stop paying for your car, or mortgage for your house, see you walking on the streets pal.

        Stop paying your service provider for your internet connection and see how much internet you get.

        Be real.

        If you have some cheese box Windows as a service set up, ya, you stop paying for the service you will have ZERO Windows, and if that's what you run that means you got nuthin'.

        It never fails to amaxe me how wicked shallow people around here tend to think about IT.

        Its like, "I like IT, I like my computer choice, I like a new tech invention. Im never going to think realistically about how other people might think or what their reactions might be, or why, I just figure its the way I want things to be, so of course, that's whats best and that's whats going to happen..."

        Please, think a little before you write.

        And secondly, what you seem to be failing to realize is that very very few people upgrade to the next Windows OS every 3 years. Firstly, there is no possible way Windows has had a new desktop OS every 3 years since, well lets say since XP came out.

        So long as Windows is ever sold on disks, for ANY purposes, and not only offered as a service you can only get through an encrypted connection with Microsoft, there will be Windows piracy.

        So NO, Microsoft hasn't been making anything like $30 or so a year from Windows installations. Look up the stats on what Microsoft makes on Windows per year, look at the stats for world wide installs. You will soon see the numbers don't add up to $30 per year per person using Windows. That means there are a whole lot who don't pay $30 a year.

        Some bought XP and used it for 6, 7, 8 years or more. That generated a whole lot less than $30 a year per each one of those users for example.

        With subscription on a yearly or monthly basis, your entire versatility on deciding when you would like to spend money on a new OS is right out of your hands. You pay, you get the newest, and you lose it if you stop paying. Figure it out, your not just paying for patchs and service paks, your paying for the OS itself. Of course they would stop it if you stop paying. Don't be so ridiculous. What are they going to do for the people who pay $30 for a year and then go "screw that, Im not paying anymore".

        Whats Microsoft going to do???Just suffer with it??? You get the OS ad the first year of updates for $30??? Never ever ever going to happen buddy.

        Suppose you don't particularly like what you have heard about the new upgrade version? Well...theres probably a solution for that. You don't have to get it, just stick what you least for awhile, but you can count on having to keep paying. What Microsoft is desperately trying hard to get out of is the current situation of people who pay for the OS once and then choose to live with it, come hell or high water for 10 years and don't put any more money into Microsoft operating systems through out. They are not looking for just a different version of feeling they are getting screwed at the cash register just because they make and sell software and software don't wear out.

        Microsoft wants out of the current software model, and as we see, Adobe and all the others want out. Nobody wants to create and sell you software anymore that you can just use indefinitely without paying more again after awhile.

        Your viewpoint PC987 is incredibly naïve.
    • 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.
      • Its a monumental greed master plan.

        I am probably more amazed at the current popular thinking about the way so many people around here in IT think about cloud computing.

        I say that because I know of no other profession that has such an obviously new method of doing business on the horizon that offers so little in the long term, or big picture for the customer, but such a blunt and obvious cash grab for the "big business" that sell products in the field to the public, and yet we seem to have a shocking number of IT pro's who are still customers who will have to pay, if not at work, certainly for their home, and yet they just look at it like its "something new and advanced" so its all good.

        Sure. Cloud computing has its advantages. Sure.

        Now sit down and ask yourself if there is just no possible way to have the big IT companies identify those advantages and replicate them without resorting to cloud computing.

        Some services that are currently "cash on the barrel head FREE" like online email services, well of course have always made sense. Up until now. But suppose you were suddenly informed that to keep such an online service it was going to be $20 a year? Suppose you could do it with a software solution that cost $60??? If the solution was good, it would probably be worth it to by the software. With very very cheap onboard storage its not going to hurt that way.

        Think of the negatives about the kind of "complete cloud solutions" we may be practically forced into some years down the road. Think of paying monthly for your OS, for your office productivity software, think of paying for any large complex apps, think of paying monthly for games, for media services, for storage of your own data, and for your internet connection???

        How much does everyone think this is going to cost? Lots once you add it all up over a few years, and I can promise you 100%, not question about it, it will cost the vast majority of people over all, a lot more than it does today with onboard storage as opposed to cloud services. Not one of these big companies is looking to make less per person in a few years, they are guaranteed to be looking to make MORE.

        And not only do you pay more dollars over the years than you do now. You also give up a lot of control. You end up pooling all, or most your data in a huge target with everyone else who will look like a big fat juicy prize to hackers, as opposed to you being just some guy who lives down the street that a hacker would never purposely target.

        You give up some privacy, count on it. Who knows how much at this point, but if you think turning over your entire computing life to others in the cloud, that nobody will get anything from you other than service fees, you probably live in a dreamland.

        When some one, some company some government entity comes looking to, lets say Google, Microsoft or Apples servers for something, well, your computing life is on there, and if they get in, they are looking at you too. Will big IT ALWAYS make the right decisions you would in every situation? It would be unbelievable if they did. With their own interests being at stake, and millions of others on their servers which they are responsible for, its simply completely unbelievable that any big IT company could ever always be making decisions that are always in your best interest even where conflicts with themselves or others exist.

        It probably wont end there after all that either. As is typical in IT, we always find out the odd quirks and issues a new tech brings in after we bring it in and those out there who make money off of quirks start looking for flaws and vulnerabilities to make some cash off of.

        In short, I fail to see any kind of advantages in total cloud computing solutions that outweigh the additional costs and the pitfalls that are obvious even today.

        And I am endlessly shocked at an IT website that seems to resist with all their might talking about and writing articles about what would be otherwise bluntly obvious to anyone who was looking for a forest and wasn't getting blinded by the trees.
    • 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
      • Oh, its greed.

        Nobody is going broke in big IT.

        But some, like Microsoft don't make as much now because most people have figured out they don't need a new computer and OS every 3 years.

        If this was a car company that was saying, "our cars last for 10 years now, we would rather stop selling them now, just rent them, sure you pay more over 5 or 6 years then you would to just buy a new one once every six years or so, but we want to make more than what we do just selling you a car ever 6 or 7 years."

        You would go nuts and say "greed".

        And that exactly whats going on here.

        Wake up.
    • 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.
      • Not if you only buy Office once every 6-7 years of more.

        What people around here seem to have lost COMPLETE sight of is that people who post on ZDNet are nothing like the average person who mostly don't care if they hang onto Office 2003 for 15 years if its still working just fine for them. And for the average person, inevitably, it does.

        Use your head here.

        Microsoft is most definitely not doing anything that's going to make them anything different than "MORE" money on the average. They are not interested in less money.

        Reality. As is often the case, when it works for a few, they of course will say "works for me!!"

        But nobody stops to think, and certainly not to care about those who it dosnt work for. Or if they might be in the majority.

        Which of course they are. Most people don't even understand what cloud computing is yet.
    • 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