But while optimistic that Microsoft will skip the charge this time, Cherry was also sure that Microsoft would eventually put a price on the annual updates.
"First, and strategically, I think Microsoft would like to charge for such updates in the future," Cherry said. "However, before they could do so, I also think they have to determine several things, including: How much are users willing to pay for an annual update; how much value, in other words new features, they can put in each update; and finally, can they prove that they can roll out updates with value in a consistent and predictable cadence."
Supporting his take that Microsoft will charge for updates -- if not for 2013's "Blue" -- Cherry pointed out that neither Reller and Larson-Green had a name for the impending update, which will reach customers as a public preview in late June during the BUILD developers conference.
That omission could be telling, Cherry said. "I'm not sure they'll expose a number for the update, but will just call it 'the Windows 8 update,'" he said. "There would still be a number [assigned to the update] that could be checked programmatically for support, but I don't think they want to get into the whole problem of the public name."
If that is Microsoft's strategy, it would have an impact on the free versus paid question for updates. "If [Blue] works, then we might not see another big version," Cherry said. "Suppose this release, let's call it 8.1, is a success. Next year, 8.2 is a success. In my mind that means we may never see a big release, call it Windows 9, but rather, just annual updates that everybody buys and everybody installs."
With years between something called "Windows 8" and "Windows 9" -- or nothing called the latter -- Microsoft would be much more likely to charge for the annual updates as a way to replace the revenue lost by ditching the major upgrades of the past, Cherry argued.
Cherry was the only analyst willing to put a possible price tag on the updates. "My expectation would be that when Microsoft begins charging, the price for an annual update would be somewhere between $24.99 and $49.99," he said.
That range straddles the Windows 8 Pro $39.99 upgrade price Microsoft offered through Jan. 31, 2013, and the amount Apple charged for the 2009 OS X upgrade to Snow Leopard in 2009. But it's above the fees for upgrades to Lion and Mountain Lion in 2011 and 2012.
This article, Why Microsoft won't charge for Windows 'Blue' & this time, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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