Microsoft's change to its Windows 10 website raises a big question about its next operating system

Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Satya Nadella speaks at his first annual shareholders' meeting in Bellevue, Washington December 3, 2014. REUTERS/Jason RedmondThomson ReutersMicrosoft Corp Chief Executive Satya Nadella speaks at his first annual shareholders’ meeting in Bellevue, Washington

Microsoft has quietly updated its Windows 10 website to say that the new operating system, which launches on July 29th, will be eligible for customer support and software updates until October, 2020 for most people and until October, 2025 for business customers.

This isn’t a big deal on its own — it’s exactly how Windows has worked for the last several versions.

There’s a 5 year lifecycle for consumers, and 10 years for anybody who shells out for “extended” support, which means enterprise. Meanwhile, Microsoft tends to issue a new version of Windows every three years or so, starting this cycle all over again.

What’s odd is that Microsoft has repeatedly said that Windows 10 is “the last version of Windows,” with the company promising time and again that it will deliver updates, features, security patches, and the like in an ongoing manner, rather than releasing a formal Windows 11 (or 12 or 13).

So then the question becomes, if Microsoft isn’t going to release a new Windows in three years, or six years, or nine years, what happens to Windows 10 once that ten-year period of promised support expires?

It seems unlikely that Microsoft would start charging for Windows updates or support during the supported period, as some armchair analysts have suspected.

Sure Microsoft wants to make money off of subscription revenue. But the company’s number one priority right now seems to be ensuring that everyone uses Windows 10 on all their devices.

After all, once the world’s on Windows 10, and using the latest versions, Microsoft is in a better position to sell you stuff like the growing Office 365 productivity software suite as a paid subscription.

It’s also why Microsoft is forcing Windows 10 updates on consumers. And as ZDNet’s Ed Bott writes, Microsoft has clarified some of its language to indicate that the only thing that can stop you from getting Windows 10 updates while it’s in that supported timeframe is if your device itself becomes incompatible with Windows 10 after an update.

But once the 10 year support lifecycle for Windows 10 is finished, Microsoft is free to do whatever it wants. It’s possible (though not likely) that Microsoft will move to a paid subscription model for Windows, or maybe it will simply extend the support period once that deadline is looming more closely. If Microsoft is serious about not planning a Windows 11 though, this is a mystery that will be with us for at least the next few years.

Microsoft did not reply to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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