Microsoft will release the first public previews of Windows Blue next month. According to the company’s statements, we won’t call the finished product Windows Blue, nor will we call it Window 9.
Microsoft describes the release as an “update”. That’s an important word that carries a lot of weight on its shoulders.
In the past Microsoft would leave it for a year or so after a new version of Windows, then release a “service pack”. This would be a collection of bug fixes and tweaks made once the software was out in the wild.
Many of the components of these service packs were drip fed to users ahead of the pack’s release. Usually they’d then be tidied up along with some new code and release either on a disk or in a large download package.
If Microsoft was operating the old Windows timetable, then the train shortly to arrive at the platform would be a service pack. Yet we already know there’s more to Blue than just bug fixes. There will be new features and Microsoft has said it plans to update Windows on a more frequent cycle.
The big question is: will Microsoft charge users for Windows Blue? That’s controversial to say the least. Many users object to being asked to pay for fixes. And if there are new features, aren’t they just things that should have been in Windows 8 from the off?
You can find rumours online that cut both ways. Some say Microsoft will charge for Windows Blue in much the same way that Apple charges for OS X updates, others say the upgrade will be free for existing users.
Watching the Windows Blue entrails
I’m not going to make a guess either way. What I will say is how Microsoft deals with this issue will matter far more than anyone understands yet. Microsoft may be making money, but Windows 8 cannot be described as a sales success nor can Windows Phone 8.
Microsoft can’t afford to put a foot wrong with its customers, they have alternatives, they no longer have to buy Windows. If the company pushes them too hard, it will backfire. If Microsoft charges existing Windows 8 users for the Blue upgrade, it will go badly for the company.