Microsoft is now offering Windows 8 free on tablets and phones smaller than 9 inches in size – the impact is that all operating systems can now be judged on their features and not price.
Microsoft made its money from selling an OS. This was great in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. Even the early ‘teens of the 21st century were good to Microsoft. Then a lot changed almost over night:
- Apple started to give away updates to their mobile iOS for iPhones and Tablets
- Google Android got REALLY big – and Android is FREE
- Google released a competing desktop operating system, Chrome OS, for entry-level laptops – yep, it’s FREE
- Ubuntu, a Linux OS, is now the official OS for China
- FireFox OS for mobile devices is FREE
- Samsung is releasing Tizen, a mobile OS, for devices and phones for FREE
- Apple is now making all future updates for OS X FREE – including upgrading your desktop from OS Lion
It is hard to sell an Operating System when there are so many free alternatives for consumers to choose from. The biggest challenge for Microsoft is that their flagship OS is now being compared feature to feature with other operating systems. The magic word – FREE – has a big impact. Now you will see the price of smaller laptops, tablets and phones fall into parity with price of Android devices. The Windows devices will no longer have the “windows tax” that paying for an operating system causes. The consumer is seeing the investment as the hardware, not the software.
There is not an immediate upset to the market, but longer impact over the next 3-5 years is significant. Windows, unlike Tizen, Ubuntu and Chrome OS has something the others do not have: decades long experience in developing a consumer product in use by hundred of millions of people. This creates brand loyalty. In many ways, giving Windows away will be the boost Microsoft needs to migrate consumers onto the growing number of Windows Services, such as Office 365. How this shapes out in the future will be interesting to watch. I fully expect to see a world with the following distribution of Operating Systems:
- 60% Google’s Android
- 20% Apple’s iOS/OS X
- 15% Microsoft Windows
- 5% Mixed bag of everything else
The bottom line: Microsoft is back in the game.