Microsoft may be working on a cloud-based version of Windows to go alongside Office 365. What would be in it for customers?
that customers stay up to date: In order to keep receiving updates, those who upgraded to Windows 8.1 must move to Windows 8.1 Update.
In an admitted effort to address persistent online rumors that Microsoft was preparing an Update 2, Microsoft senior marketing communications manager Brandon LeBlanc somewhat nebulously declared last month that, rather than releasing features in large chunks, Microsoft will begin to issue them in monthly updates, just as it does with security patches. Microsoft's advertising also regularly mentions the "the new Windows," instead of Windows 8. That could be merely an attempt to distance newer updates from Win 8's notoriously bad reputation -- but it could also be a sign that Microsoft is planning to drop version numbers as it moves to a rapid-release model.
None of this necessarily adds up to a subscription-based, cloud-oriented version of Windows. But the concept continues to appear in online rumors, including some attributed to WZor, a Russian group known to have previously leaked accurate pre-release Windows information. According to these rumors, Microsoft could introduce a free basic version of Windows that would be locally installed and offer additional service and features through the cloud.
Though it's not clear what kind of offline functionality such a cloud-oriented OS might offer, or how it might differ from current desktop-as-a-service products, Microsoft has recently demonstrated its willingness to tinker with the place of Windows in its revenue streams. In a policy enacted this year, the company now gives away the OS to manufacturers making smartphones and small tablets. It also introduced low-cost Windows with Bing to help OEMs produce more $200 and $300 notebooks and two-in-one devices. The company also already offers subscription-like Windows plans to enterprises through its Software Assurance program and enterprise licensing agreements.
Still, if Microsoft announced Windows 365 or something similar, it would face a number of challenges. It might seem ideal to have a version of Windows that functions like Office 365, in which the latest and greatest features are continually rolled out via the cloud. But would such a system cause trouble for the custom-built line-of-business apps on which many enterprises rely? Microsoft can try to make Windows more secure, but it can't control how well its corporate customers' in-house apps are written, after all.
Despite the jobs postings and rumors, some commentators are not convinced Windows will follow Office to the cloud. ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, who has a good track record for pre-release Windows information, said in May that, according to her sources, Microsoft is not planning a subscription-based version of its OS.
Readers, let's hear from you. Would you be interested in a cloud- or subscription-based version of Windows?
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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio