Microsoft files for 'Windows 365' trademark, hints at future service

new Microsoft Windows

Clue to new subscription, which would flesh out 'Windows-as-a-service' strategy

Microsoft late last month filed to trademark "Windows 365" with the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office (USTPO), documents showed.

The trademark, filed with the USTPO on Jan. 29, resembles Microsoft's already existing mark of "Office 365," the rent-not-buy program for both consumers and businesses, sparking renewed speculation that the Redmond, Wash. developer is planning on a subscription plan for its operating system.

Microsoft filed for the Office 365 trademark in mid-2011 and was granted the mark a year later. The company officially launched the Office subscription program in June 2011 but significantly expanded it in January 2013.

Neowin.com reported on the Windows 365 trademark Monday.

Talk of an Office 365-like subscription for Windows has surfaced regularly, but Microsoft has said nothing of such plans. Analysts have regularly dismissed the concept as unworkable.

Recently, however, Microsoft has pitched the phrase "Windows as a service" to describe Windows 10, the under-construction operating system that will ship later this year.

"With Windows 10, we think of Windows as a service," said Terry Myerson, the chief of the firm's operating system group, in a presentation one week before the company filed for the Windows 365 trademark. "Windows 10 is so much more than the latest version of Windows. Windows 10 changes the rules of the game and redefines the relationship between us and our customers."

Myerson used the "Windows as a service" label to describe both the radically-faster update cadence that Windows 10 will follow and Microsoft's promise to provide free updates and upgrades for the "supported lifetime" of a device. The company has yet to define what the latter means. "Details on our device supported lifetime policy will be shared at a later time," Microsoft said last month.

The Jan. 29 trademark filing gave no hint of what the service, assuming Microsoft intends to actually create one, would be. However, boilerplate text in the application listed everything from "operating software as a service" and "computer operating system software" to "mobile phones" and "electronic storage of files and documents."

Although Microsoft has outlined Windows 10's update and upgrade policies in very general terms, it has not spelled out the particulars, leaving plenty of room for Windows 365 to be assigned to any number of potential programs that offered benefits for an additional monthly or annual fee, as does Office 365.

Among the unanswered questions are the aforementioned "supported lifetime" of a device and exactly which business users will be able to slow down the rapid update tempo. One of the proposed slower update tracks, tagged as "Current branch for business" (CBB), has not been defined in terms of cost, if any, or eligibility. (The other track, "Long-term servicing branch," or LTS, was described in somewhat greater detail; experts believe it will be tied to Software Assurance, the annuity- and subscription-like program that many enterprises already pay for.)

Conceivably, Windows 365 could offer extended support to customers whose devices have aged out of whatever definition Microsoft eventually applies, or represent one way users running an expected Windows 10 Pro could slow the anticipated monthly updates for consumers to a more manageable three-times annually for businesses.

Both may be possible, said Paul DeGroot, principal at Pica Communications, a consulting firm that specializes in deciphering Microsoft's licensing practices.

"I don't think the notion of a non-versioned Windows where customers pay a modest fee for updates and patches is a bad idea," DeGroot said in an email reply to questions about his take on Windows 10 licensing. "It could not be expensive, but if consumers, from whom Microsoft gets no Windows annuity revenue now, and businesses were billed something less than $20 for each PC and had access to a steady stream of patches and upgrades, it could work well. I'd also make the first three years free."

DeGroot, like many other Windows experts, portrayed businesses as adverse to change and so want nothing to do with a faster cadence. If push came to shove, they might be willing to pay more to go slower than constantly-updated consumers.

"Their favorite features: stability, consistency, supportability," said DeGroot in another email, of businesses. "A continuous stream of updates will be the first thing in the 'Don't Want' column. They hate testing, which is sheer overhead."

Much of that ambivalence towards change stemmed from the declining importance of the operating system. "They actually don't ask much of Windows. About the only jobs Windows has left to do in most corporations is to run Office, including Outlook, and a browser. The vast majority of new apps are browser-based custom apps or Internet hosted," DeGroot said.

A Windows subscription service, although characterized by many Microsoft watchers as unlikely, would fit with the company's strategic pivot under CEO Satya Nadella, who, along with other top executives, has stressed that Microsoft must find new ways to monetize Windows as the firm gives away or heavily subsidizes the OS to OEMS. One of those monetization tactics: Convince customers to pay for ongoing services.

When asked during last month's quarterly earnings call how Microsoft plans to recoup revenue it relinquished by giving away Windows to makers of devices with screens 9-in. and smaller, Nadella ticked off several consumer-grade services.

"The [Windows] Store monetization, Bing monetization, Xbox Live monetization ... are all things that drive monetization for below 9-in.," Nadella said.

If Microsoft does unveil a Windows 365 program, DeGroot didn't expect an announcement any time soon. "Microsoft hasn't really written the [licensing] rules for Windows 10," he said. "If it's like Windows 8, they won't deliver them until two weeks before the product is released."

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