Windows 365: Not coming to a PC near you

Is Microsoft planning to turn Windows into a subscription service akin to Office 365? Some leakers say yes. My sources say no. Here's why.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is in the midst of pivoting Office from product to service. Will it do the same with Windows in the not-too-distant future?


In various episodes of our Windows Weekly netcast, Paul Thurrott and I have both speculated that something like a "Windows 365" subscription service could be how Microsoft plans to continue to make money off Windows. Earlier this month, a list of the alleged status of a number of Microsoft's future products, including "Windows 365," has been making the rounds.

After asking around a bit, I believe that Windows 365 is not real, not in development and not on the roadmap.

I've heard from my contacts that Microsoft is not working on anything called "Windows 365." Nor is the company planning on trying to get consumers to "subscribe" to Windows releases the way that Microsoft has convinced more than 3.5 million consumers to subscribe to Office with Office 365 Home and Personal. 

Windows is a platform, not a service. As @cspkcats put it, consumers buy Office, but they don't usually buy Windows, as most just get the latest release preloaded on a new machine. It sounds like the plan -- at least for now -- is for the Microsoft OS team to continue to build and sell different Windows SKUs, not subscriptions.

This does not mean that Microsoft is betting against "One Cloud" becoming one of the lynchpins of Windows. Already, it's easy to see that Microsoft's plan is to encourage users to save as much of their music, photos, files and data in OneDrive and keep storage on devices to a minimum. Perhaps the next natural step will be for Microsoft to encourage Windows users to "sign in" -- like some do now with Office.com or Chrome -- to access their cloud-stored apps, files and data more easily.

How Microsoft charges for Windows is changing -- both for consumers and businesses. What might have seemed logical and viable at one point may no longer make sense given new market dynamics.

For business customers, Microsoft already sells Windows as a subscription. It does this via its renewable enterprise volume-licensing agreements and Software Assurance. Update: As @jamesmlarson noted on Twitter, Windows Intune, Microsoft's device-management and security service, is another way business users can "subscribe" to the enterprise version of Windows today.

On the consumer front, Microsoft already is making Windows free on phones and tablets with screen sizes of under nine inches. The Windows 8.1 with Bing SKU -- which may or may not be completely free to OEMs (Microsoft officials haven't actually said) -- is one of the versions of Windows the company is using to try to stay competitive in this space. Maybe the "Modern" SKU that is rumored to be a mashup of Windows RT and the Windows Phone OS will be another.

Microsoft's evolving business plan calls for reliance on services like Skype, Office 365, Xbox Live, Bing and its advertising, etc., to offset revenue losses from the decreasing price of Windows itself. Maybe we'll even see Microsoft combine a bunch of these consumer subscription services -- say, Skype Premium, Xbox Music Pass, Office 365 -- into some kind of unified subscription bundle somewhere down the line.

Bottom line: Microsoft is definitely all-in with subscriptions. But Windows 365 or anything like it isn't in the cards, my sources say. Fake list is fake.

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