Microsoft Might Make Windows 9 Free for Some

Windows 9 Screenshot

Over the weekend, a listing for a “Windows TH” appeared on a Windows Technical Preview for Enterprise website, leading to rampant speculation about the final name for the next version of the company’s popular operating system.

As The Verge and other news outlets have suggested, “TH” almost certainly stands for “Threshold,” the longtime codename for the updated platform. It seems virtually certain that the final name will be something along the lines of “Windows 9,” as Microsoft’s habit of giving new Windows editions proper names seems to have gone out with Vista, which failed to gain much traction after its release in 2007.

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Now that Satya Nadella is firmly in charge of Microsoft, it’s incumbent upon him to place his own stamp on Windows. Nonetheless, the rumor mill (fueled by a large amount of leaked screenshots over the past several weeks) suggests that Windows 9 is very much a return to basics, downplaying the “modern” interface of Windows 8 in favor of the traditional desktop. The OS might integrate Cortana, the voice-activated digital assistant currently found only in Windows Phones; it’s a near certainty that it will allow virtual desktops, a feature already present in rival operating systems such as Mac OS X. Beyond that, many of its new abilities and widgets are anyone’s guess.

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The other rumor drifting around is that Microsoft will offer Windows 9 for free to anyone who purchased Windows 8. That’s a scuttlebutt worth unpacking, if only because Microsoft has a longtime tradition of refusing to give Windows away for free to anyone—after all, the operating system fuels a significant portion of the company’s bottom line. But Nadella already gives Windows away free to developers who install the software on devices with screens under nine inches in length; it’s not inconceivable that he’d expand on that program, and trade a portion of Windows 9’s revenues for the chance to accelerate its rate of marketplace adoption.

In order to make Windows 9 free to millions of customers, Nadella would need to convince his organization—which spent decades guided by the philosophy that people should pay for software—that free is good, at least in the short term. He could certainly argue that, given how Apple’s iOS and Google Android have assumed an ever-larger role in peoples’ computing lives, Windows will need all the help it can get on the adoption front.

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