Opinion by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Would you subscribe to Windows?

Instead of buying Windows, you may soon be subscribing to it — that’s how much Microsoft wants you off Windows 7

New features in Windows 10 laptop

Microsoft apologists insist that the company wasn’t really trying to push Windows 10 on users when it recently did stealth OS updates on their PCs. There’s only one problem with this: Users disagreed. Now, as the clock runs out on Microsoft’s offer of free Windows 10 “upgrades,” it appears the company is readying another approach to get you to move from older versions of Windows: subscriptions.


Ed Bott, a longtime Windows writer and observer, for years swore that Microsoft would never introduce a subscription model for Windows. He argued that “Windows upgrades have never been a major source of revenue for Microsoft,” less than 0.8%, and therefore Microsoft wouldn’t do this.

I’d argue that since Microsoft is moving to a subscription and service model across vast areas of its products and also wants Windows users to move as fast as possible to Windows 10, moving Windows upgrades to this model is a natural extension of its emerging strategy. Last year it was Office for WIndows 10 that Microsoft tied to an Office 365 subscription. Why shouldn’t we expect Windows to be next?

And then there’s this: Bott just found a file named “UpgradeSubscription.exe” in the latest Windows 10, Build 14376.

I am shocked, shocked to find subscription software in Windows 10!

Some will say that Windows is just too small a part of Microsoft’s business these days for the company to care so much. And, yes, Windows accounts for only 10% of all of Microsoft’s revenue these days. But need I point out that even 0.0001% of Microsoft revenue is serious money? Besides, there’s more than just cash flow going on here.

We can all agree that Microsoft really, really wants you to abandon earlier editions of Windows for Windows 10. Why else would it trick users into it with misleading notifications, where clicking the “this has always in my experience closed this sort of box” X instead authorizes an upgrade? And it wants to make it seem to users that they are lonely in their resistance. Microsoft claims there are now 350 million Windows 10 users. But its count includes Xbox One game consoles, tablets and a handful of smartphones.

Color me less than impressed.

StatCounter estimates Windows 10 was on 23% of global desktops as of June 2016. While Windows 10 is gaining on Windows 7, which is at 45%, it’s still a long way from being the dominant desktop operating system. I think Gartner has it about right. It expects that Windows 10 won’t be the top business desktop operating system until 2018.

In addition, after long being accused of forcing users — whether they want to or not — to upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft just lost a lawsuit to an unhappy customer. California travel agent Teri Goldstein sued Microsoft for causing her PC to upgrade to Windows 10 without her explicit permission, and won $10,000. Rather than appeal, Microsoft paid up.

Almost immediately afterwards, Microsoft announced that it would change that sneaky upgrade notification. Clicking the red X will no longer be interpreted as approving the upgrade. I wonder what bright dolt ever thought that was a good idea?

Microsoft is hoping to avoid any more lawsuits. Good luck with that, guys.

True, Microsoft’s latest end-user license agreement (EULA) forbids consumers from filing a class-action lawsuit, but I doubt that would hold up in court. Yes, for those of you who know a bit of law, the AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion decision could get in the way. But — probably in penance for my sins — I know many class-action lawyers. They universally regard such clauses as unenforceable.

So what could Microsoft do to 1) promote its latest operating system, 2) keep everyone up to date, and 3) avoid lawsuits?

The answer: Finally get Windows in line with the rest of its services and make it subscription-only.

Oh, did you notice what I did there? I called Windows a service. That’s coming too.

With Windows as a subscribed service, Microsoft solves its legal problems and the difficulties of trying to maintain multiple out-of-date operating systems.

But what about you? Do you want a subscription instead of sort of, kind of owning your operating system? I don’t have any trouble with it myself. Well, so long as Microsoft doesn’t charge me $50 a year for it, anyway.

Besides, I’ve long known that I don’t own Windows. The EULA is a license to use Windows; you never really owned it. If you want to own your desktop operating system, to make your own decisions about when or if you’ll update, you want Linux, not Windows.

Linux, no matter what you may have heard, works just fine on the desktop. I use it every day. And, unlike Windows, it’s under your control, not Microsoft’s or any other corporation’s, and there are no subscriptions involved.

Why is Apple letting Macs rot on the tree?
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