“Right now we’re releasing Windows 10, and because Windows 10 is the last version of Windows, we’re all still working on Windows 10.” This was the message from Microsoft employee Jerry Nixon, a developer evangelist speaking at the company’s Ignite conference in May 2015.
Immediately it may sound like Microsoft is shutting down Windows and not doing future versions, but the reality is a little more complex. The future is “Windows-as-a-Service” (WaaS). WaaS has been rumored for quite a while, and most times jokingly because of Microsoft’s ability to turn everything into a service for the past few years. Microsoft has been discussing the idea of WaaS, but the company hasn’t really explained exactly how that will play out with future versions of Windows. This might be because there won’t really be any future major versions of Windows in the foreseeable future.
Arguably, it’s a change that has been happening ever since the easy and affordable availability of internet connectivity came to PCs. Several software companies have been updating for their apps, OS and firmware through internet gradually over time since it became practical to do so. But Microsoft’s decision to fully embrace this marks a big change in the way it conceives, markets and sells its desktop OS.
WaaS means that once customers install Windows 10, they will essentially be registered with Microsoft to receive rolling, free feature additions, improvements, and updates. This is not too far off course from what we experience today with Windows Update, and this updating mechanism will mostly likely continue to be the vehicle to make this happen for Windows 10. In the few years, Microsoft has included new features in some of its updates. The difference with Windows 10 is that this version of OS could possibly represent the very last major Windows release, which brings us to Versionless Windows. Whether you install Windows 10 when released, buy a new PC with Windows 10 pre-installed, or decide to upgrade later on, it will always be Windows 10. No new major version numbers and you’ll only be able to tell the Build you’re using by locating the features that exist on your particular installation.
WaaS sounds like subscription service where you spend out a year’s worth of service and can install on multiple devices. Although Microsoft did disclose what revenue model the company will adopt, but it does represent a substantial shift in the way Windows OS is delivered. It would be more interesting to see how the revenue model shifts with this change: Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for eligible devices for the first year after 10’s official launch, but presumably if it’s capping that it’ll still be looking to drive revenue from sales of the OS.
On the other side of the coin, businesses that currently deploy standard Windows images across the company and test and stage updates might have to relinquish that control and allow Microsoft to do the work. That’s not something they take lightly, and would require a major shift in operations and IT mindset.