How/Why a Windows subscription might work [Concept]

By | May 29, 2014

Leaked screenshots suggested that Microsoft was working on a subscription model for Windows appropriately called “Windows 365”, much like Office 365. But then Mary Jo Foley came along to crush our hopes and dreams: “Windows 365: Not coming to a PC near you” Long story short, nothing called Windows 365 exists and Microsoft isn’t working on a Windows subscription model. Mary Jo even explained that consumers don’t typically buy Windows and businesses already have subscriptions available, therefore a subscription model wouldn’t make sense. While I believe her when she says Microsoft isn’t working on a Windows as a Service model, her reasoning why isn’t really solid. In this post I’ll explain my concept for a subscription model that would make sense for both consumers and businesses.

It goes without saying that whatever Microsoft does, they will still offer traditional DVD/ISO upgrades.

Windows Update upgrades

First things first, we need to change the way OS upgrades work. Now you use a DVD or ISO to upgrade your OS, not really user-friendly. With Windows 8.1 we first saw an alternative, upgrading through the store, while this was a step in the right direction, it still wasn’t 100% streamlined. Windows 8.1 Update was a great example of how upgrades could work, as plain old updates. Delivering OS upgrades through Windows Update is a great, streamlined user experience. That’s very different from the enterprise ‘subscription model’ Mary Jo refers to in her post, with that subscription companies always have access to the latest Windows version, sure, but the IT department still needs to upgrade all PCs ‘manually’ (there are of course tools to somewhat automate this roll-out, but not nearly as easy as Windows Update). My proposed upgrade system looks a lot like what Adobe is doing with its Creative Cloud software, the software is constantly updated with new features using the built-in updater.

I’m not a Windows Update/Upgrade expert, but I can’t see any immediate problems in delivering upgrades through Windows Update.


Of course those upgrades won’t be free, at least not forever, I propose 2 ways of paying for these updates, an annual “Windows 365” subscription and the possibility to buy a single upgrade just like you buy a new OS right now.

Users who have an active Windows 365 subscription associated with their Microsoft Account would receive Updates like the Windows 8.1 Update automatically every couple of months, as soon as features are tested and ready. This isn’t the same as the current enterprise ‘subscriptions’ Mary Jo mentioned, the updates I propose can be pushed to all machines seamlessly, or they could be perfectly integrated into the company’s current update workflow. They would also happen more frequently than traditional upgrades, you wanted a more rapid release cadence? You’ve got one!

Buying Single Upgrades

Another method of selling OS upgrades to consumers could be some sort of yearly upgrades. Mary Jo mentioned that most users don’t buy an OS, instead they buy hardware with Windows pre-installed, this is a very good point. But that’s no reason to give up on this new, proposed way of upgrading OSes, not at all, in fact, this could be a way to get more users to buy OS upgrades! If you create a ‘new’ OS every year, combining all subscription updates/upgrades from the past year and offer them as one cheap, user-friendly upgrade to non-subscribers, more people will upgrade their system to this new OS, even if they initially got Windows pre-installed on their device. (maybe OEMs could bundle a Windows 365 subscription with new PCs or throw in a year of free upgrades or something along those lines)

You can ask users whether they want to upgrade using a banner similar to the one Microsoft used when Windows 8.1 launched. This way more users will buy an OS, even though they originally bought hardware with Windows pre-installed. Here are some examples of what that might look like: (pricing is of course completely arbitrary)



People were skeptical when Adobe went subscription-only with Creative Cloud, but now most people are quite positive about it. So, even though Microsoft isn’t working on Windows as a Service, they should be! It’s better for consumers, enterprises and Microsoft itself. It will be easier for consumers and enterprises to keep their system up-to-date and more people will actually buy a new OS.