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Microsoft offers Windows 10 carrot, threatens with stick

Gregg Keizer | May 25, 2015
After a year of free Windows 10 upgrades, Microsoft will start charging an unknown amount

Microsoft has extended the carrot. Later it will brandish the stick.

Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for the first year after its release. But once those 12 months are over, users will have to purchase a retail copy of the OS or license it through a volume deal, according to a briefly-available blog post by Microsoft's Australian arm.

For just a few hours this week, a blog post -- first pulled, then restored but without the previous content -- spilled a few details that, while assumed, had not been officially revealed by the Redmond, Wash. developer.

"After the first year, upgrades will be paid via boxed product and VL [volume license] Upgrades," the blog stated.

Microsoft has not spelled out the pricing for a post-one-year upgrade. It will likely reveal the dollar signs closer to Windows 10's launch this summer, if only for SKUs (stock-keeping units) that would allow customers to do a "clean install" on a PC running an ineligible-for-upgrade OS, like Windows Vista or even XP. But the "boxed product" -- which may, in fact, not come in a box per se, but may simply be a small card with a license key inscribed or a key emailed to the customer -- will come with a price tag.

Microsoft has professed a goal of putting Windows 10 on a billion devices within two to three years, and in its developer pitches, talked up the large pool of Windows 10 users who can be targeted for app sales. Microsoft wants to push as many customers as possible, particularly consumers but also small and mid-sized businesses that run a "Pro" version of Windows, onto the new OS as quickly as it can.

The free upgrade offer is thus the carrot designed to speed up migration; the cost-you-money upgrade is the stick for wielding in the future to prompt laggards to get with the program.

Customers now running Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 8.1 will receive a free upgrade to Windows 10. Those with PCs powered by Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate or Windows 8.1 Pro get Windows 10 Pro. Others, including Windows Enterprise, must use their Software Assurance annuity to upgrade, while users of Windows RT, the now-dead spin-off of Windows 8, are entirely out of the Windows 10 loop.

That policy means that the free upgrades to Windows 10 Pro will be more valuable than consumer upgrades to Windows 10. Historically, Microsoft has charged significantly more for the Pro edition, and there's no reason to think that will change (even if the prices themselves do).

For instance, Microsoft lists Windows 8.1 Pro at $199.99, 67% more than for Windows 8.1. Expect a similar disparity for Windows 10.


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