Why Microsoft won't charge for Windows 'Blue' ... this time

Analysts believe Microsoft won't dare charge for this year's update to Windows 8, but one is certain it will for future annual releases

Sometime in the coming weeks, Microsoft will tell Windows 8 users whether they will have to pay for the upgrade code-named "Blue," and if so, how much.

While Microsoft remains tight-lipped on the subject, analysts believe Microsoft won't charge for Blue, but may do so for later updates.

"I don't think that in the current Windows 8 climate they can charge for the first update, as the perception of many users will be that any changes being made or features they are adding will make Windows 8 the way it should have been when they first purchased it," said Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft. "I know I'd be upset if Microsoft asked me to pay for this set of changes."

Brett Waldman, an analyst with IDC, agreed. "I find it hard to believe that Microsoft would try to monetize Windows Blue," he said. "In my mind, it's more like a service pack-plus-feature pack, which have always been included with the purchase of a license."

Last week, Windows division CFO Tami Reller -- who leads the group along with Julie Larson-Green, head of development -- said that the company would share pricing information and other details, including packaging, in the next couple of weeks. Reller spoke to several media outlets and bloggers, including Mary Jo Foley, who blogs on ZDNet, as part of a PR blitz.

But as is Microsoft's habit, Reller declined to share more than that.

Analysts stepped in to fill the gap.

All those contacted by Computerworld believed that Microsoft will not charge for Windows Blue, which Reller and Green referred to simply as "the next update for Windows," but which leaked copies of early builds identified as "Windows 8.1."

"They would be walking a tightrope giving away Blue for free, and be setting a precedent, but with a new technology that's controversial, I think they'll give this one away," said Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner.

Windows Blue is not only the code name for the update, but also an umbrella term for Microsoft's switch to a faster release schedule that is to deliver annual changes to Windows. That's a major transformation for the Redmond, Wash. developer, which has generally produced a new version of Windows every three years.

The new development and release pace means that earlier conventions may not apply. As Waldman noted, Microsoft has historically issued "service packs," largely collections of previously-issued bug fixes, for free. Prior to Windows 2000, the company also shipped what it called "feature packs" that included new functionality, also for free. The latter term has fallen into disuse, with the exception of some special updates, like those that restore Media Player to EU and Korean editions, which must be shipped minus that program as part of past antitrust actions.

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