The familiar Start menu is back, with some improvements with Windows 10. Photo: Microsoft
Microsoft will give away its upcoming Windows 10 operating system as a free upgrade to users of the most recent versions of Windows and Windows Phone, as the world’s largest software company tries to retain customers in the mobile era.
The action is a marked change for the company, which has always charged for new versions of Windows, one of its main profit drivers.
The ‘free’ strategy is designed to put Windows in as many devices as possible. The company would then make up for any lost revenue by selling services such as Office over the internet, or cloud.
The holographic lenses Microsoft demonstrated. Photo: Microsoft
“It’s a necessary evil as CEO Satya Nadella and Microsoft have recognised the ‘golden goose’ and major revenue opportunities will happen after the upgrades have taken place,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets.
“Microsoft needs to lay seeds for its cloud-centric strategy and Windows 10 is the epicenter of that strategy. It’s all about making it attractive for the ecosystem to upgrade onto this next-generation platform.”
Investors were not impressed. Microsoft shares fell 1.5 per cent to $ US45.67 on Nasdaq at mid-afternoon on Wednesday in the US.
The holographic lenses can be used to control Windows 10. Photo: Micorosft
Windows 10, expected on the market this US autumn (between September and December), will be available for one year as a free upgrade to users of Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1, Myerson said.
The move was “inevitable”, Forrester analyst Frank Gillett noted.
Windows only features on roughly 15 per cent of computing devices including phones and tablets, and is largely irrelevant for many consumers. It lags Apple and Google, which regularly update their software systems free for customers.
“The way to motivate consumers is to make upgrades transparent and painless – meaning free and low-to-no effort,” Gillett said. “Microsoft had to match the expectation set by the mobile and web leaders.”
At an event at its headquarters near Seattle, Microsoft also tried to burnish its flagging reputation for innovation.
Unexpectedly, it unveiled a holographic lens device that allows users to see three-dimensional renderings of computer-generated images. Microsoft HoloLens, which looks like a wireless visor, raises the stakes in the emerging market for virtual reality, being targeted by Facebook’s Oculus.
Microsoft said it’s working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology on the holographic technology, and the lab will use it for Mars exploration starting in July.
The device will be available publicly around the same time as Windows 10 this US autumn, a Microsoft executive said.
“Microsoft HoloLens is the world’s first untethered holographic computer – no wires, phones or connection to a PC needed,” Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Operating Systems group, said in a blog post.
“Microsoft HoloLens allows you to view holograms in high definition and hear them in surround sound, even if they are behind you.
“And with advanced sensors, Microsoft HoloLens can see what you are looking at and understand what you are communicating with your hands and voice.”
Analysts said the device was the kind of innovation Microsoft had been lacking in the past.
“It’s a huge surprise and certainly a risk trying to bring this sort of technology down to consumers,” said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner, who attended a demonstration. “But this is Microsoft finally showing some vision, which has been lacking for a long, long time.”
The world’s largest software maker is the latest company to join the push into augmented and virtual reality. Qualcomm and Intel are among companies that in the past year have demonstrated technology aimed at enabling computers, tablets and phones to show users a picture of the world overlaid with digital images and information. Facebook made a $ US2 billion bet on virtual reality last year with its purchase of Oculus VR.
Executives also showed off an Xbox app for games on Windows 10 and a new version of its browser code named ‘Spartan’, which lets users make notes on web pages and share them.
Microsoft announced its new Windows 10 operating system in September, billing it as a move to unify all kinds of device users. It skipped Windows 9 altogether, to put some distance between the new system and Windows 8, which confused many users by ditching the start button menu and using a new layout.
Reuters, Bloomberg and Fairfax Media