New tune or golden oldie? Microsoft cues up the cloud chorus

Microsoft can beat the drum all it wants for cloud and services, but people still want to hear its greatest hits: Office and XP

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The first one's free

Giving away Windows Phone in India is another strategy shift, and I suppose I'm surprised that Microsoft chose a market that large to try this little experiment, considering the licensing revenue it must bring in every year. It certainly looks like they company is serious. I'd have thought it would try something smaller first, like Luxembourg or satisfied Uber customers.

This move is coupled with recent reports that Redmond is considering a free version of Windows 8.1 for the general market, in addition to free licensing for phone and tablet devices, not to mention its direct support for Android through Nokia -- unless Elop slipped that in as revenge for getting his CEO ambitions stomped. If the move stands -- which seems likely, considering the new backhanded iPad love -- there's undoubtedly an Office for Android around the corner that'll probably be as half-useful as Apple's. Face it: A free Windows would be so basic that it'd disappoint the Amish and ask you to upgrade for every feature from the Start button to disk access.

At last, Windows XP
Still, it looks like maybe Ballmer was more serious than we thought last year when he stated that Microsoft was moving toward a cloud app services model rather than its "traditional" strategies. We were busy beating on Windows 8 like a jungle drum at the time, and the comment reeked of flagrant marketing me-too messaging -- no wonder we didn't pay attention. Cynical codger that I am, I think there's more immediate motivation, too. These moves will also directly impact one of the Redmond's peskiest current problems: Windows XP's massive installed base of Luddites.

I beat a little on folks complaining about XP's end-of-life a few weeks ago, and I stand by it. (Six years! That's professional-level procrastination.) I got a bunch of "you insensitive drunken fart silo" comments from people in low-income situations who can't afford an immediate upgrade. Those love letters will be the subject for a post later this week, but it's a situation that also relates directly to this new, no-license multidevice strategy.

If it's one thing you didn't have much of back in the early days of XP, it was options. Buy a PC and pay the license, or keep using your pencil and abacus. Today, there are all kinds of alternatives that make sense for a big chunk of XP users; tablets and the annoyingly named phablets are two that jump to my mind. Hook a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to a tablet, phablet, or Giger-esque Facebook goggles and you have a totally viable platform for light productivity, email, and adult sites.

Sure, it seems weird that Microsoft omitted XP Compatibility Mode or Med-V support for Windows 8, which would have been attractive to those still stuck on the oodles of even-now XP-only applications. But if you think about it, why offer direct help if the company can ensure you remain screwed without its free licensing for low-cost devices masquerading as last-minute benevolence? The software problem stays on you; you'll eventually figure something out; and in the interim, Microsoft will sell something glitzy, mobile, and constantly in need of costly new apps and upgrades.

Is all this a signal that Microsoft is changing its client-side licensing ways? It's far from certain, and it'll depend on whether a free license will really sell more phones and Surfaces, as well as shut up XP people while dragging them to a modern, moneymaking OS via soft, rhythmic language and shiny objects. It's a bottom-line revenue question, so give it six months. That's when Microsoft's fiscal year ends and we get a real answer.

This article, "New tune or golden oldie? Microsoft cues up the cloud chorus," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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