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Microsoft Readies ‘Windows as a Service’ Deployment

In a bid to remain relevant in a growing mobile world, Microsoft will provide free Windows 10 upgrades to users of Windows 7 and 8.1.

(TNS) -- Microsoft Corp., the world’s biggest software company, is doing the unthinkable.

It is readying to deploy its new operating system (OS), Windows 10, on the cloud. Labelled “Windows as a service”, the company will provide free upgrades to users of Windows 7 and 8.1.

Microsoft has also assured users that it will keep the new OS updated for the supported lifetime of a device for free. Windows 10 debuts on 29 July.

The reason for all of this is simple—it’s Microsoft’s bid to retain its edge, and stay relevant in a world where consumers are increasingly doing more personal and official work on mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets and phablets, which run on free operating systems like Google Inc.’s Android and Apple Inc.’s iOS, rather than on desktops and laptops, most of which run on Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

Till even a few years ago, terms such as open source, open standards, interoperability and the cloud were alien to Microsoft.

The Redmond, Washington-based company was known primarily for its proprietary software, like Windows OS and Microsoft Office suite, and its battles with Linux—a free and open source software developed by Linus Torvalds.

Enter chief executive Satya Nadella, who took charge of Microsoft on 4 February 2014. He stunned the tech world on 20 October 2014 by saying “Microsoft loves Linux” during a speech at a San Francisco media event.

Bhaskar Pramanik, chairman of Microsoft India which completed 25 years in the country this March, puts the changes in perspective.

“Windows 10 will run on any device—phone, tablet, PC, XBox game console, TV. It doesn’t matter what device you have. For us, it’s the unifying layer across all devices. You can create any application or a service, and it can run on any device. There is nobody else that can offer you the same thing,” he said in an interview last week.

Tyler Bryson, general manager, marketing and operations, at Microsoft India, corroborates the view. “We want to focus on mobility from the perspective of a person and not a device. Microsoft’s responsibility is to let you be productive or have fun on whatever device you choose to work on. It can be any consumer-based application, Skype or Office 365. It is about how consumers want it and where they want it. We get them there.”

Microsoft believes that with these changes, it is ushering in an “era of personal computing” but there’s no denying that the moves were prompted by intense competition from technology firms, like Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard Corp. and International Business Machines Corp. (IBM)—both in the consumer and business segments.

Consider the consumer segment. In December 2013, Apple, also traditionally known for its proprietary software, began offering OS X Mavericks at no cost to its users.

Linux and Android have always been based on open source and free-to-download, should users choose to install them on their own.

Today, Microsoft’s office suite already runs on rival Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS devices. Its Windows OS runs on Apple computers too.

This interoperability strategy is important for Microsoft since Android OS accounts for 78.9% of the total smartphone OS market, followed by 17.9% for iOS and 2.5% for Windows, according to the March quarter figures released by research firm Gartner Inc. in May.

Microsoft’s approach to businesses has also seen a change.

On 13 November 2014, the company made a radical departure from its proprietary tools tradition by saying it will make its .net programming tools (used to develop applications for the server networks) freely available in an open-source model and enable them to run on Linux and Apple’s operating systems.

Microsoft’s cloud solution Azure now supports variants of Linux. And most people, who have the Lync 2013 app on their Windows Phone, will be automatically updated to the new Skype for Business app.

Bryson believes India is the place “where the world is going to be reinvented” around terms such as mobility and cloud. He adds that the company’s local data centre infrastructure gives it “this canvas to reach out to the budding entrepreneurial and ISV (independent software vendor) community”.

The $87-billion Microsoft does not break up its India unit’s revenue numbers. However, according to Dataquest, a Cyber Media (India) Ltd publication, the company’s revenue for the financial year 2013-14 was Rs.7,224 crore.

As per Sanchit Vir Gogia, chief analyst and group CEO of Greyhound Research, the announcement of local data centres makes it evident that the Indian market is vital to Microsoft’s success.

Analysts say Microsoft is making the right moves as businesses will take time to adopt Windows 10.

“The launch of Windows 10 will solidify their intent to cater to consumers better, with significant improvements to the OS...(but) companies will take some time to migrate to Windows 10 (many still use Windows XP, which is no longer actively supported by Microsoft) as they would want to wait till the product is stable,” Gogia said.

Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett, in his 17 January note, pointed out that while “...Windows 10 will become the new enterprise standard...(and) enable Microsoft to retain its leading position in PC computing, especially in the enterprise (segment), where PC remains a critical work tool...”, it will face challenges in the mobile arena.

“While it will give developers the unprecedented ability to develop apps that work on PCs, tablets, and smartphones with a single application development effort, it does not show enough potential for a differentiated mobile experience that will draw developers and consumers alike away from iOS and Android,” Gillet said in his note.

Alok Shende, founder and director, and principal analyst, of Ascentius Consulting, also believes that Android vendors have established the first mover advantage in the “enterprise market”.

“Market players have built a thriving, competitive and lower-cost application ecosystem around the Android platform, giving enterprises options to choose management solutions such as MDM (mobile device management). While Windows 10 will offer a compelling proposition to enterprises to build an application environment both for desktop and mobile devices, the lead that Android players have gained is likely to challenge Microsoft in the short to medium term,” Shende said.

©2015 the Mint (New Delhi) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.