SEATTLE — Next week, when Microsoft releases Windows 10, the latest version of the company’s operating system, the software will offer a mix of the familiar and new to the people who run earlier versions of it on more than 1.5 billion computers and other devices.
There will be a virtual assistant in the software that keeps track of users’ schedules, and Microsoft will regularly trickle out updates with new features to its users over the Internet. And the Start menu, a fixture of Windows for decades, will make a formal reappearance.
But one of the biggest changes is the price. Microsoft will not charge customers to upgrade Windows on computers, a shift that shows how power dynamics in the tech industry have changed.Microsoft, whose core business is software, sought to buck this trend for as long as it could. but the inroads made by companies like Apple and Google have put intense pressure on Microsoft to find new ways to profit from some of its big moneymakers.
Already, the company has been giving away mobile versions of Office apps like Word and Excel, an effort to give the software some life in a category of devices where the company is weak. And it has made Windows free to companies that make smaller devices, mainly smartphones and tablets, to get more of them to use the software.
The thinking behind the Windows decision follows a similar logic. Microsoft decided to sacrifice some of its Windows revenue for the simple reason that the company needs people using Windows 10 — and fast. PCs have lost momentum in many ways to smartphones and tablets in recent years. The company’s last operating system, Windows 8, did not revive the market and might havemade matters worse with a bold redesign of its interface that turned off some users..
While some Windows 10 users will find the subtle sales tactic annoying, it most likely will aid Microsoft in adapting to a post-PC world where computers can take the form of smartphones, laptops, tablets and even tables and picture frames. Investors should look for more of Microsoft’s revenue to stem from tablets, mobile phones, software subscriptions and cloud services.
But John DiFucci, an analyst at Jefferies, said Microsoft’s grip on the business market may be less solid than generally assumed. He said he had noticed in meetings with investors that more and more bring iPads, Android tablets and Chromebooks to take notes.
“There’s some risk there I think people are ignoring, or at least not appreciating,” he said.