Microsoft Foolish to End Free Windows 10 Upgrade Program

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It's over. Microsoft's year-long free Windows 10 upgrade offer ended on Saturday and consumers who want to move on from Windows 7 or 8 will have to either pay $119 for the new OS or, more likely, stay put. Microsoft is certainly well within its rights to end the program, but At first glance, Microsoft's free upgrade program seems like an act of generosity. After all, we've been conditioned to believe that Windows should cost money, because all previous Windows upgrades had some kind of cost. I'm old enough to remember paying $100 to buy a Windows 95 disc from Compusa at midnight on launch day, because I was excited about being able to have filenames that were longer than 8 characters.

Microsoft Foolish to End Free Windows 10 Upgrade Program

However, in 2016, every other major operating system vendor gives its software away for free, both to users who want an upgrade and to manufacturers who want to install it on their PCs. Apple comes out with new versions of both its desktop and mobile operating systems every year, but since 2013, all of them have been free. Google not only provides free Android and Chrome OS updates to users, but also offers these platforms to phone, tablet and laptop vendors for free. Ubuntu and other forms of Linux have always been free.

Microsoft didn't choose to give its operating system away out of a sense of generosity. The company needs users on Windows 10.

It undoubtedly costs Apple and Google millions of dollars to keep developing their platforms, but the companies realize that they benefit a great deal, just from having people use their ecosystem. Both Android and Chrome OS promote Google services like Gmail, Docs and Google Search, all of which are loaded with ads, the company's main source of revenue. Apple makes a bank on sales from its app store (and its devices), which can't exist without its operating systems.

Windows Store

Just like Apple and Google, Microsoft didn't choose to give its operating system away out of a sense of charity or generosity. The company needs users on Windows 10 in order to increase sales from its own app store. The store doesn't even run on Windows 7 (an older version appeared on 8) so every user who sticks with the old OS is a lost sales opportunity.

With Windows 10, Microsoft introduced a new class of programs called "Universal Apps." This new type of software adapts its interface based on whether you're using a touch screen or a keyboard and mouse, but it doesn't work at all on Windows 7 or 8. If you're a developer and you know that only some of your potential customers are on Windows 10, why would you make your app a Universal App?

MORE: You Can Still Get Windows 10 for Free, If You Lie

If you're on Windows 10, you can buy a subscription to the company's Groove Music streaming service or you can buy videos from the built-in store. Since Windows 10 has great Xbox integration features, users of the OS are probably more likely to buy and stick with Microsoft's console rather than getting a Playstation or Wii.

Xbox App

Microsoft also benefits a great deal from all the data it collects from Windows 10 users. Though the data is anonymized, the company can use it to spot trends and even to serve you targeted ads. There's no doubt that this data is worth money.

In fact, it's pretty clear that every Windows 10 user has incredible value to Microsoft. Somewhere in the Redmond halls of power, there's probably a secret spreadsheet where the marketing department has figured out exactly how much one Windows 10 user is worth on average.

No one is going to pay $119 to upgrade to Windows 10 today, if they weren't willing to do it for free in the past.

It's fair to say that, after 12 months, most consumers have had plenty of time to upgrade to Windows 10. However, the upgrade process is not always as easy as it should be. Some folks may have tried, failed and given up for a while. It took my wife six months and over two dozen failed attempts (with awkward error messages like "something happened") before she finally decided to erase her hard drive, install Windows 7 from scratch and then run the Windows 10 upgrade. My mother's Windows 7 laptop failed over half a dozen times, reporting that it didn't have enough space for Windows 10, even though it had 140GB free.

Other people may have chosen not to upgrade to Windows 10 during the first year, because they haven't seen a compelling reason to change. They're probably looking at Windows 7 and saying "if it ain't broke, I'm not going to fix it." But these users may change their minds and want to upgrade in the future when they get to experience Windows 10 more closely or when Microsoft adds new features they just can't resist.

Perhaps a family with a Windows 7 PC buys a cheap laptop for the kids and it has Windows 10 on it. All of a sudden, they understand the benefits of the new OS like they never have before and they want to run it on their main computer, but it's too late to upgrade for free.

So why is Microsoft ending its free upgrade program? Revenue from OS sales can't possibly be the reason. I promise you that no one is going to pay $119 to upgrade to Windows 10 today, if they weren't willing to do it for free in the past.

Windows 10 Price

In May, Computerworld's Gregg Keizer argued that Microsoft has to end the upgrade program, because OEMs want to use the OS as a selling point for new computers. Again, if someone wasn't willing to upgrade to Windows 10 for free and isn't willing to spend $119 for a license, why on earth would they pay $500 for a new computer, just to get it? If the PC vendors can't make compelling enough hardware to entice consumers, they can't rely on the promise of preloaded Windows 10 to save them.

By standing on principle and ending the program after exactly a year, Microsoft is hurting itself more than its customers.

Keizer also argues that Microsoft has to end its free upgrade program because Enterprise customers are annoyed that they have to pay to move to Windows 10 while consumers get it for free. But big businesses pay these fees because they are getting added security and networking features. Also, wouldn't these customers have already been annoyed during the first year of upgrades? That ship has sailed.

Desktop OS Market Share

The strongest reason for Microsoft to end the free upgrade program is to live up to its word. The company announced that users would have a limited time to upgrade and keeping to a firm deadline puts pressure on them to make the move to Windows 10. If Microsoft suddenly extended the deadline for Windows 10, what would that mean for next time?

However, by standing on principle and ending the program after exactly a year, Microsoft is hurting itself more than its customers. Yes, 300 million devices are running Windows 10 but a lot more people are still on Windows 7. According to Net Applications, only 19.1 percent of devices run Windows 10 compared to 49.1 percent that run Windows 7 and 10.5 percent that run Windows 8 or 8.1. That's a lot of people who won't be buying apps from the Windows Store, won't be subscribing to additional Microsoft services and won't be sharing their telemetry data with Microsoft.

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
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22 comments
  • Waldoh Wares Says:

    Personally, I use Windows 7 and refuse to upgrade to 10 for various reasons almost too redundant to repeat. (Ask just about any Win7 user and you'd know.) However, at work we use Win10, but not by choice. Before I started with this company, they woke up one morning to discover that all their computers had been "Hijacked" by a "free upgrade" to Windows 10. They never asked and no one was there on any of the several computers to OK the upgrade. And before they knew they could roll them back to Win7 or 8, the time to do so expired. So they're stuck with 10 and have had several issues since resulting in lost hours, problems with printers, tech costs, etc. as have other companies. None of us like nor wanted Windows 10 and for MS to install in on our systems was downright invasive and rude. And, Yes!, WITHOUT our permission! And for those of you who question that MS would do that and suspect that someone at work accepted W10, let's say for argument's sake someone inadvertently clicked "OK" to accept a Win10 upgrade. That explains ONE computer. How do you explain NINE computers getting it?!? And then MS wants us to pay for tech support to fix their issues? (Spoke with their techs today regarding a Win10 issue.) Instead, I fixed it myself. And many of Win10 problems are because of certain security upgrades which seem to discard any drivers they don't know of resulting in printers and machines requiring their programs to be tweaked and or drivers reinstalled periodically especially since Win10 does NOT come with an easy shut off of its updates for "security" reasons. (Where ia the security FROM Microsoft?) And MS does not in the least bit take any responsibility for the many millions of dollars across the board that companies like ours have lost all because of similar Win10 issues. So, should it surprise anyone that 49% of us are still using Win7? And with MS's batting average re:Win10, just how likely do you think we will want to upgrade to Win10? For many like myself. Absolute 0% chance.

  • Larzsch Says:

    The OS in a very real sense transfers ownership of my computer.

    I would gladly pay for the new OS if it didn't come with the nosey elements but did allow me to choose what updates are installed (and equally important) when.

    I'm sure Windows 10 is a fine upgrade for a lot of people but I'm glad the nagscreens are gone.

  • Aaron Says:

    1st) Microsoft gave everyone an option to upgrade for a year. Don't be mad at them if you missed the windows. They have stated from day 1 when it would end.

    2nd: I truly feel for those that were forced to upgrade. Windows 10 is a far improvement over Windows 8 and to me runs very well. However, it has had many problems I have experienced, mostly with the start menu not opening or the Windows Store mostly due to a malware is misconfigure issue.

    3rd: I have used Windows 10 extnesivly and it is a 180 from Windows 8. It feels more like WIndows 7 to me but with a interactive start menu with the tiles. Most people who hate it refuse to educate themselves on how to use it. Heck, most people in the office didn't like it at first, but now it's easy to use for them. Go figure?!?!

    4th: Windows 10 does not spy on you. If you are that paranoid, then you can turn such things off under settings. Plus, this has been debunked. Read here: http://www.zdnet.com/article/when-it-comes-to-windows-10-privacy-dont-trust-amateur-analysts/

    5th: I think Microsoft could have handled the upgrade process better and were too forceful. I completely agree here and should of put more control of the upgrade process in the hands of the user. Especially businesses whose pc rely on Windows 7, such as the Woman who was won her case.

    Finally, I think it's a great operating system and I'm glad I upgraded.

  • Joe Bean Says:

    Avram, I like your hardware reviews, but I often disagree with your market analysis. Here, we disagree again. I think it was smart from Microsoft to end the free upgrade after a year. They need to be believable if their goal is to put pressure on people who are not sure they would upgrade. So, a lot of last minute upgrades to be sure to get the free upgrade might end up new Win 10 customers. Then, a few months from now, you make a promotion saying you can upgrade for free only this day or this week, whatever. Voilà! If you don't upgrade this time, how long will it take for you to have the opportunity again? I agree not having upgraders hurts them, but the deadline was a tool to have more upgraders and it served its purpose. I agree with others here though that charging for having ads imposed and candy crush forced in small business (apparently even the Pro version won't be able to stop some installs anymore) is quite obscene. Why can't they make a paying clean business version (not enterprise only) and a consumer free but spying version?

  • Yang Hao Says:

    How about how much it costs to keep the free upgrade service available? Would that be a consideration or is it negligible?

  • Justin Donohue Says:

    What both this article and the commenters all seem to not understand is that Windows 10 (originally supposed to be Windows One [one OS for all devices]) is the last Windows OS. Like many of you have mentioned in comments, other companies have put out free upgrades, now MS is! All future builds of Windows 10 will download as a Windows update for free as long as the system can handle it. The "Anniversary Update" aka "Redstone" is the first in a long line of Windows 10 "OS's". Like it should have a long time ago, Microsoft has made Windows a service. Once everybody get's on board they will understand this. You should have got Windows 10 while it was free because eventually everybody who doesn't have Mac or Linux, will have Windows 10. Whether it be the free upgrade, $119.99 later, or with a new computer, Windows 10 will eventually be in your home.

  • Phandrens Says:

    At least the reign of terror that Microsoft has waged for the last 12 months is over.

    Before I found a way to stop the forced downloads I installed Windows 10 on my laptop and sold it to a friend. I then Bought a macBook Air, my first Apple device ever.

    The woman who bought it gave it back to me. She hated windows 10, I gave her a Chromebook instead, and she was happy.

    I am typing this on that laptop using Linux Mint 18. It works more like the Windows I know than Windows 10, or as my disgruntled friend calls it That Microsoft Ten Thing.

    I will never buy another Windows computer, Microsoft has burned all it's bridges with me, after 20+ years of Windows, Starting with Windows 3.11.

  • Robert B. Marks Says:

    Um...

    This completely skips over the fact that the upgrade campaign was conducted in such a way that Windows 10 is probably a tainted operating system now. The fallout from the forced upgrade campaign includes:

    - 1 successful small claims court action against Microsoft.
    - 2 current court actions against Microsoft seeking class action status.
    - Criminal investigations against Microsoft in multiple states.

    The end of the free upgrade campaign may be a disadvantage to those who have decided late that they want Windows 10, but for Microsoft's other customers - the 66% or so who are running Windows 7 or 8.1 (the customers running Windows XP are excluded, as the upgrade campaign didn't affect them) - it's time to breath a sigh of relief, because the nightmare is finally over. Microsoft is no longer the primary security threat to mission-critical computers.

    Any software as a service is about trusting the company providing it. Microsoft has demonstrated a willingness to completely disregard the autonomy of its user base - it would not surprise me if there's little to no trust left at this point. So, the best thing they could do at this time is to stop the free upgrade campaign and start working on rebuilding the customer trust and goodwill they've pissed away with record-breaking speed over the last year.

  • Ken Meyers Says:

    Well I feel sorry for those who didn't upgrade and now have to pay. MICROSOFT should end life of the other operating systems like 7 and 8. This is what apple does and they don't cry. Bottom line is Microsoft is here to MKE money for the company and shareholders. This is not socialism so they have a right to charge in a free enterprise market.

  • Michael Hall Says:

    Thank god it's finally over - Windows 8.1 is less buggy, looks better and boots faster than 10 on all my machines. How anyone can like 10 over 8 is beyond me. Charms on 8.1 are also missing in 10 - which were very useful. The constant 'upgrade' notifications were painful.

    Overall, 10 is just media hype. In the same way 8 was doomed from the moment commentators hated it, 10 was hailed as great the moment reviewers decided it 'good'.

  • mdg1019 Says:

    I wish I hadn't "upgraded" from Win 7 to 10. Win 7 is still the superior operating system. 8+ all suck.

  • TomTom Says:

    Ads, forced updates and spying for $119. A joke only Microsoft could imagine.
    This company is obsolete.

  • Trent Says:

    Oh BTW, there is plenty of W7 updates that have telemetry. The nags may go away but MS is and has already installed malware on W7. Only advanced users know which updates to avoid. So please don't spread FUD that W7 does not have MS telemetry. Absolutely false. Visit woody on windows to see the details.

  • Trent Says:

    Being windows is a service and there are around 53 privacy components that harvest telemetry from the user I would say yes, its stupid to charge at this point. If I pay 120 dollars for an OS I want an OS and nothing else. I don't want to pay 120 bucks and also be MS's product. MS has joined Google and Apple in making their OS's a service product (cloud). So they want to charge for the OS in the old school way and also harvest user data. Whatever MS.

  • Coach K Says:

    great news! maybe this will signal the end of the critical update deception and nag msgs

  • JoeAmerican Says:

    I have Win 10 on 1 SSD in my computer and I installed PCLinuxOS Mate 64 bit UEFI on another SSD and the funny thing is I do not get the BSOD's or freezes or slowdowns (from MS spying on everything) with PCLinuxOS. I cannot believe that after all these years, (Yes I remember very well when Win 95 came out) that the BSOD is still an every day, several times a day occurrence. MS managed to give Win 10 away at the same time that the US Govt was coincidentally paying them BILLIONS for installation fees of Win 10 on every computer in the US govt, including all military and intelligence computers. Hmmm....

  • KJW50 Says:

    Provide a replacement for WMC and many would consider migrating to Windows 10... Just a thought...

  • Paul_C Says:

    I think that Microsoft needed to stick to it's timeline. As was offered up in the article, 1 year is plenty of time to proceed with the change.

    Those who did not upgrade are happy with what they currently have...W7,W8 or W8.1...or....cannot upgrade due to hardware or software incompatibility.

    Lots of people were turned off by Microsoft's nagging messages, auto updates and the decision to repurpose the "x".

    A percentage have said that they will upgrade when they are forced to purchase new devices, while others claim that they will switch to Linux or Apple once Microsoft ceases support for older OSs.

    For me, I updated our family's two devices (a Surface Pro 3 and HP laptop) that were running W8.1 without any problems. A third device (Surface 3) came with W10 pre-installed.

  • joninbend Says:

    Well, you are entitled to your opinions, but the fact is that the vast majority of customers that upgraded to Windows 10 are never going back because it's an upgrade that works very well for virtually everybody. But, MS should continue to offer it for free just as everybody else does for their OS.

  • mica sofft Says:

    W10 is an absolute no brainer..DO NOT EVER CONSIDER INSTALLING IT.

  • Bobby Joe Billy Bob Says:

    I like Windows 7. No need for Windows 10.

  • James Says:

    And TNX GOD! I FINALLY can turn on Windows 7 Update again! Without having fear that it gets virus called Get Windows 10.

    F_K microsoft. They obviously don't know what good OS is. Of course they don't because you have to finish your job before leaving it and do it in another way. They could make beautiful Windows 7 SP2. But they put balls and for 3 years after they still can't do even remotely close to Windows 7.

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