The latest edition of Microsoft's Windows operating system brings back many features familiar to users of previous editions, such as the "Start" button interface that had been skipped over in Windows 8. In fact, Windows 10 could be described as one of the least radical redesigns of the operating system that holds the world's largest market share. With this in mind, it might be easy to overlook the new, very different direction Microsoft is taking its flagship product. Microsoft's most recent decision signals a movement away from software-as-a-product towards software-as-a-service.
Previously, Windows was a product that consumers bought and Microsoft supported. Enterprises bought licenses and individuals bought discs or downloads, or perhaps paid to have it installed on a new machine. This time around, however, the process is very different. Business licenses are still available, but for individual users, the software itself is free for the first year to anyone who owned Windows 7 or 8. Furthermore, Microsoft has suggested that there will be no future iterations of the OS, and that Windows 10 will be updated with improvements and new features for all the foreseeable future.
Microsoft's new system of OS distribution indicates that software-as-a-service has truly come into its prime. Consistent, fast connections to the internet have made it possible to keep computers updated with declining need for physical media. Peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing of updates has also been implemented in Windows 10 to facilitate update distribution over local networks.
Other Microsoft offerings previously sold as products are also being made into services during this period of transition. While the Xbox is still sold primarily as a physical gaming console, it has also become the brand for a series of entertainment-related web applications available on both computers and mobile devices. Many new features, such as the Cortana personal assistant, will be available on competitor systems, such as Android phones.
While Windows 10 may be the final edition of Microsoft's flagship product, we can expect the Windows as a service to continue growing in this new direction as new features and improvements come.