Microsoft's Novel Windows 10 Antipiracy Plan

Microsoft this summer will distribute Windows 10 to anyone running Windows 7, Windows 8.1 or Windows Phone 8.1, regardless of whether the existing OS is a genuine or pirated copy.

Terry Myerson, head of Microsoft’s operating systems unit, disclosed the marketing strategy last week at the Windows Hardware Engineering Community (WinHEC) summit in Shenzhen, China.

Microsoft previously announced that it would upgrade users to Windows 10 for free for the first year following its release.

Myerson also announced an accelerated delivery time line for Windows 10 — it previously was expected that the new OS would not be available until at least this fall.

The timing of the announcement in China is significant. China is well known for being a hotbed of software piracy.

Some 74 percent of all commercial software used in China is pirated, according to BSA, The Software Alliance.

Globally, about 43 percent of software is pirated, BSA found.

“If Microsoft’s move really succeeds, it could put enough of a dent into software piracy to improve the company’s bottom line,” said Charles King, Principal Analyst at Pund-IT.

“That is a worthy goal. I do not see a lot of risks here, since the intended audience is largely made up of noncustomers,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Plan Unfolds

Upgrading to Windows 10 in China will involve the participation of Lenovo, Tencent and Qihu 360. The collaborations will assist millions of customers in China, and spur adoption of Windows 10 worldwide, noted Myerson.

Lenovo will offer Windows 10 upgrade services at 2,500 service centers and select retail stores in China when the new OS becomes available. Lenovo also will build Windows phones that will be available in mid-year 2015 via China Mobile.

Tencent, China’s leading social networking and gaming services company, will offer Windows 10 as a free upgrade to its customers on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. The free Windows 10 upgrade pack will include QQ, Tencent Video and Tencent PC Manager. Tencent will create a Windows 10 universal app for its flagship QQ app and bring its most popular PC games to Windows 10 and the new Windows store.

Internet security firm Qihu 360 will provide Windows 10 for free to its customers in China through seamless upgrades.

Smartphone distributor Xiaomi will test Windows 10 and contribute to its future release later this year.

Unanswered Questions

Microsoft’s new approach to software distribution does not exactly mirror what Apple and open source operating system developers do, noted Pund-IT’s King. For years, Apple did charge for OS upgrades while Linux distributions most often are free.

With Linux, “users typically pay for support,” he noted.

“The point is that as PCs continue to become appliance-like devices, the OS is an important issue to fewer and fewer people. That trend is likely to accelerate as computing endpoints become increasingly reliant on cloud services,” King explained. “Windows is still hugely profitable to Microsoft, but its customers are mainly OEMs, so taking a softer line with end users makes sense.”

What’s ‘Qualified’?

Whether a computer is “qualified” for the free upgrade to Windows 10 depends on how Microsoft applies or interprets its license. It appears that any device running a pirated copy of Windows 7, Windows 8.1 or Windows Phone 8.1 might be able to get Windows 10, but that doesn’t mean it would be considered a genuine copy.

“If a device was considered non-genuine or mislicensed prior to the upgrade, that device will continue to be considered non-genuine or mislicensed after the upgrade,” Microsoft said in a statement provided to the E-Commerce Times by spokesperson Amanda Cedergren. “According to industry experts, use of pirated software, including Non-Genuine Windows, results in a higher risk of malware, fraud (identity theft, credit card theft, etc), public exposure of your personal information, and a higher risk for poor performance or feature malfunctions.”

Hedging Bets

Anything Microsoft can do to convert users of older or pirated versions of Windows into users of new versions of Windows helps the company in a few ways, said Jay Lyman, senior analyst for enterprise software at 451 Research.

“The strategy is a wise departure from charging for an OS upgrade and reflects a very different client software market that is influenced by open source as well as cloud computing, mobile devices and applications,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Microsoft can benefit in three ways, Lyman said. First, it keeps that user a Microsoft user.

“Second, the OS today represents a platform on which to promote and sell other software, such as Office,” he continued.

“Third, this is a way for Microsoft to try and replicate the success and proliferation of software that we have seen in open source — not only with Linux, but more recently with Chromebooks, which are made more affordable and accessible in large part because they ship with open source software,” Lyman explained.

Fighting Windows Piracy

Another benefit for Microsoft is stemming the tide of stolen software, suggested King. Software piracy, particularly in developing markets, long has been a thorn in Microsoft’s side.

“A contributory issue has been the general lack of interest or will among local authorities to seriously police or prosecute pirates,” he pointed out. “Microsoft has attempted similar feints in the past, but it may feel that the combined features of Windows 10 — including cross-device functionality and an all new browser — offer a good opportunity to lure OS miscreants into the official fold.”

Microsoft Surface 3 promises great battery life, runs Windows 8.1

Surface 3

What if you could buy a Surface tablet with a bit less horsepower and a slightly smaller display but longer battery life than the Surface Pro 3? And what if you could have all this for a lot less money? If your wallet is already open, let me tell you what you’re buying: the new Microsoft Surface 3—and it’s powered by Windows 8.1.

On Tuesday morning, Microsoft launched the Surface 3 with several subtle but critical changes to its entry-level Surface offering. Gone is Windows RT, casually tossed in the dustbin in favor of Windows 8.1. Microsoft also ditched the Surface 2’s ARM chip in favor of Intel’s latest “Cherry Trail” Atom X7.

It’s a move to a more power-efficient processor that I predicted last week.

But what might really sell the Surface 3 is its low price tag: For $499, you get a tablet with 64GB of storage, the same amount found in the $799 version of Surface Pro 3 and the $599 discontinued Surface 2. (A more robust $599 Surface 3 variant with 4GB of RAMand 128GB of flash storage will also be available, together with a future model with LTE connectivity.) The first two Surface 3 tablets will ship on May 5 in 26 markets worldwide.

The story behind the story: Over the past year, the Surface family has significantly increased its standing within Microsoft, becoming a billion-dollar business. But consumers have turned away from entry-level Surface tablets, rejecting the Windows RT operating system and its lack of “real apps.”

Microsoft quietly phased out the RT-based Surface 2, and as a result, its entire Surfaceline-up has boiled down to a single product, the Surface Pro 3. However, the SP3 has two big shortcomings: Its price is significantly higher than more traditional notebooks, and its battery life has never been great. But now an Intel-powered Surface 3 running Windows8.1 solves most of these problems in a single stroke, and allows Microsoft to address a new tier of potential Surface customers.

Surface 3

“We think students, families, and cost-conscious professionals are going to love this product,” said Dennis Meinhard, program manager for the Surface, in an interview. “We’ve put a lot into that product for that $499 price, with the goal of taking that premium experience that people have told us they loved with Pro 3, and making it available to more people.”

Slightly smaller, but not noticeably so

At 10.8 inches, the Surface 3’s screen is slightly smaller than the 12-inch screen used by the Surface Pro 3. But Meinhard said the display is still 1920×1080, with optically bonded glass that improves contrast and readability when viewed outdoors. It’s also a bit brighter than the SP3 display as well, he said.

Inside the Surface, Microsoft tucked an Intel Atom X7 microprocessor, the same chip Intel launched a few weeks ago at Mobile World Congress. All told, the X7 consumes just six watts, running as low as 1.6GHz while bursting to 2.4GHz when under load. While it might not offer the power of a Core chip in terms of gaming, it’s no slouch, as our video below shows.

 

Microsoft executives warned that Surface 3 buyers shouldn’t expect to run CAD or other demanding software. Think of it as a Microsoft Office machine, pure and simple. But battery life, measured in terms of continual video playback, should be about 10 hours—or about one to two hours more than the Surface Pro 3, Meinhard said.

Using a low-power Atom chip instead of a Core chip spawned two other design changes: First, the Surface 3 is entirely sealed and passively cooled, so you won’t hear the quiet hiss of fans. Second, the chip’s low power requirement has allowed Microsoft to swap a standard charger for the microUSB charger commonly associated with cell phones.Microsoft will include a 13-watt charger in the box, but you can use your own as a spare.

Microsoft upgraded the rear camera from 5 megapixels on the SP3 to 8 megapixels on the Surface 3, which is good enough for a quick snap of a lecturer’s blackboard for embedding into OneNote. (The front camera, however, is just 3.5 megapixels.) Microsoftalso upgraded the speakers to a Dolby Pro certification. A microSD slot remains, though it’s somewhat hidden inside the back of the tablet.

Surface 3

People who buy a Surface 3 with the expectation that it will be a poor man’s Surface Pro will have to suffer one significant shortcoming: the kickstand. Unlike the SP3, whose kickstand offers nearly a full 180 degrees of range, the Surface 3’s kickstand clicks into three fixed angles, versus two angles each for the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2.

A full line of accessories

The slightly smaller Surface 3 will ship with its own custom back-lit Type Cover. A smaller Touch Cover will also be available, but Meinhard wouldn’t disclose any information on its availability. While the Surface 3 was designed without a dedicated stylus (and its keyboard lacks a loop to store it), it contains the same digitizer found in the Surface Pro 3, and will work with the SP3’s stylus.

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There will also be a dedicated Surface 3 dock for $199.99, as well as a “full-functionWindows keyboard and mouse,” Meinhard said, the Designer Bluetooth Desktop. This combination will be priced at $99.95, and will “incorporate the design language of the dock”—stark black, in other words. Both will use Bluetooth to communicate with theSurface 3.

As for whether Microsoft will continue to expand the Surface line, Microsoft isn’t saying. Meinhard declined to comment, for example, when asked whether Microsoft is planning aSurface mini. He also didn’t offer any hints on whether Microsoft has a Surface Pro 4 in the works. Nevertheless, the Surface 3 certainly makes a definitive statement: that theSurface tablet is here to stay.