An Argument For Why Windows Will Go Open Source

Microsoft has publicly stated that Windows 10 will be the last product in the Windows line. This is in part because releasing discrete products (as opposed to continuous ones), has caused Microsoft to develop operating systems that people wanted at the design inception and not the release; in Microsoft’s words, what people wanted 2 years ago.
The question then, is how will Microsoft monetize Windows in the future? Sure, Microsoft will still earn money every time someone buys a new Windows PC. However, the average desktop user keeps their PCs for a very long time, especially when compared to products like smart phones. This change would superficially cause a massive cut to Microsoft’s bottom line from Windows, and they certainly know it. By switching to this model for the advantages to relevance and responsiveness, Microsoft must also be looking to monetize Windows in a new manner than before.

Before we dive deeper, let’s briefly run through how Android and all of Apple’s operating systems are monetized; explanations for options that may not be immediately obvious:

  • App store control and sale fees
  • Default search engine control (Apple was recently paid $1 billion USD by Google to continue using Google as the default search engine on all apple devices)
  • Collecting user data
  • Creating your own hardware with optimized integration to your operating system (the Google Pixel in the case of Android)
  • Integrations promoting manufacturer products

This framework for the monetization of operating systems flourished with the prevalence of smartphones as it allows more continuous and timely updates, as well as lower upfront costs to users and manufacturers (something becoming increasingly important as hardware manufacturing margins are being driven down). Microsoft is already shifting to supplementally monetize Windows 10 through all those methods, and has done all of them very successfully, except the biggest one: the app store.
Windows 10S (Windows 10 that runs Windows apps only), has now been released and is being massively promoted and even shipped by many manufacturers on major projects. It includes the following notable features:

  • A now vaguely tolerable number of available apps in the windows store
  • The default browser is restricted to Microsoft Edge, which is in turn restricted to a default search engine of Bing
  • Mass user data collection (this was Windows 10 not 10S, but still)

Given this and Microsoft’s statement that Windows 10 will be the last disjoint version of Windows, it seems incredibly likely that Windows 10S is Microsoft’s attempt to complete their transition to the mobile OS monetization model.

For the many, this OS model and a switch to applications instead of win32 (pre-app styled) programs provides a much better experience, so for those who are able to live with the Windows app store’s selection and the Microsoft ecosystem, Windows 10S makes a lot of sense. And if it’s popular, then it will increasingly force Windows app store support and adoption by users (many Windows 10 users currently ignore its existence). This is something Microsoft also desperately needs, because the mobile ecosystem has, and will continue, to take over the sphere of computing (Android is the most used operating system in the world for scale). Therefor Microsoft’s denial of access to the mobile sphere, almost entirely driven by a lack of app support, poses an existential threat to them as an operating system developer. This combined with the desire of most users to avoid Windows 10s due to displeasure over the app selection means that Microsoft likely will try to heavily encourage the usage of Windows 10s. Furthermore, the shifting denial of win32 apps would force app creators to make their windows apps actually good (many aren’t), and people who haven’t ported them finally port them. Microsoft has already begun that by refusing to add support for any new Windows features to the win32 platform like windows hello, native fingerprint sensor support. Another showing of Microsoft’s commitment to trying to break into mobile is that Microsoft recently added native ARM CPU support to Windows 10. (ARM CPUs are the kind of processor mobile phones generally use, as opposed to x86-64 CPUs that most desktops used.)

We now have the following information to consider:
  • It it currently costs $49 to upgrade from Windows 10S to Windows 10
  • Microsoft really needs to make people want to use Windows 10S
  • Microsoft has already added mobile monetization methods to Windows 10s
  • Microsoft is massively trying to promote the shift to windows apps
  • Industry pressure has already forced Microsoft to make Windows 10 free to phone manufacturers, and for any devices with screens 10.1 inches or less

Given all this, it’s fairly reasonable to expect that Microsoft will make Windows 10S will free some day in the near future. Microsoft likely will keep full Windows 10 as the same the paid version that people can upgrade their S installations to, for legacy business software and win32 only apps as a legacy monetization model for the legacy OS. And if Microsoft is already making Windows 10 free to the public in the vast majority most non-corporate use cases, then what do they have to lose for making Windows open source and requiring people to pay to use win32 apps? They’ll gain major bug contributions, especially security ones (which they already desperately need), and tremendous good will from the tech community for an eventual gain profits. Everyone wins. Also note that Microsoft will still be able to charge money for the open source code because there's no reason that you can’t other than piracy concerns, and due to the increased legal scrutiny corporations tend not to pirate products, unlike the general public.

The major criticism of this argument is that this would likely dramatically improve the ease in porting projects to Linux, which will damage their server, creative and PC gaming prospects in the future. However almost all server users using Windows instead of Linux are only using it due to legacy support, lack of technical skill or ignorance, and so losing that market in the short term is unlikely. Furthermore, due a giant litany of technical reasons which deserve their own post, the fight for Windows server against Linux is one Windows absolutely can’t win, and their market share has been steadily decreasing anyways, so the potential damage here isn’t something I think Microsoft would massively worry about. Also Linux has more support for all server applications (Microsoft’s already been forced to part all their server tools to Linux), so this wouldn’t accelerate their loss of market share. Creative work is going to mobile in a big way, so losing current creative desktop users is a far smaller threat to them than losing out on mobile creative users. Losing PC gamers also isn’t a major concern for Microsoft, because again gaming is already mostly mobile, and because due to PC gamings massive existing integration with existing stores that are threatened by the Windows app stores, there’s been a huge move to natively support Linux with games (roughly half of new steam releases and 25% of all steam games are already on Linux), so grabbing mobile if possible is their best loss stop choice with gamers. It’s also worth noting that having games packaged as windows apps would help their situation with the Xbox a ton, but that’s also a story for another post.

Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below, and have a nice day.
-Justin Terry


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