In a surprise move, Microsoft on Wednesday announced at Build 2014 that it will offer Windows, including Windows Phone, for free to any computing device that has a screen size of less than 9 inches. This is a big change in the strategy for Microsoft, a company that pioneered the use of licensed software and has thrived due to the licence fee it collects from computer makers.
Terry Myerson, who heads the operating systems division in Microsoft, also said that Windows will be free for Internet of Things devices, the small gadgets that will have ability to connect to the web and process information.
With Apple and Google taking away the market share from Windows in the world of computers with iOS and Android devices, Microsoft was toying with the idea doing away with licence fee for Windows. Recently, industry sources in Indian phone market told TOI that Microsoft would offer Windows Phone free to Lava and Karbonn.
The Microsoft announcement also highlights that the operating system business has changed significantly in the last few years. The core Android code is free to use. Also, all Android updates are free for users. iOS, which is used only Apple devices, also offers free updates.
Last year when Apple announced OS X Mavericks it surprised the industry by announcing that the OS would be available to Mac users as a free download.
One important thing to note here is that Windows is not free for end users. The small screen devices — phones and tablets — come with the OS preinstalled. The OS is free for Microsoft's hardware partners. Consumers will not be able to obtain or download Windows for free and install on their computer, whether it has a screen of less than 9 inches or a 20-inch monitor.
While Windows is still the most-used operating system on personal computers by big margin, it is no longer the biggest computing platform. By giving away the Windows for free, especially for devices like phones and tablets that are still seeing big growth in the market, Microsoft hopes to negate the advantage of Android and iOS.