Windows 10 is no longer free. As of July 29, a year to the day since Microsoft's release of its pivotal operating system (OS), you can't upgrade your existing laptop, desktop or tablet to the platform for zero dollars, pounds, deutschmarks – you name it.
From here on out, if you want to enjoy the fresh new features and updated protocols for various worthy pursuits, namely gaming, social media, search and cloud computing, you'll have to pay up in the way of $119 (or £99, AU$179).
Now, you might be wondering, "Hey, Apple doesn't charge for its software, so why should Microsoft?" So, why don't we make that crystal clear?
Microsoft was a software company first
Simply put, Windows has been the central pillar of Microsoft's business since its inception. It's only been in the past four years that the 41-year-old company has significantly (and successfully) invested in its own computing – not gaming – hardware to demonstrate the OS's capabilities and to offer the most capable versions of the devices running its software.
Frankly, the expectation that an OS should be free is a combination of misinformation and misconception revolving around the development of Apple's products. Just because they exist within the same general market doesn't mean Microsoft and its arch nemesis should be stacked up apples to apples by the public in how their pricing is perceived.
For the first 35 years of its run, Microsoft merely dabbled with hardware, largely making money selling its Windows software to various PC hardware makers. The cost of which was then and continues to be subsidized into the pricing of devices (and later further by third party software companies).
But, it has also sold boxed versions of the operating systems straight to consumers to install on their self-built systems or upgrade existing machines.
Apple, on the other hand, has done everything, from the hardware to the software, on its own since (well, a bit after, if you ask Bill Gates) the start in 1976. When you buy a MacBook or an iPhone, it comes with software that the hardware maker also made for it. Considering Apple's premium pricing for all of its products, that cost of making the OS was in part subsidized that way.
Arguably, Microsoft works in the same way with all of its Surface devices. Beyond its self-made hardware, you could pick up a brand new laptop, desktop or tablet with the Windows 10 installed, which is kind of like getting the interface free, but not really because (again) it's subsidized into the price of the device.
Ultimately, that $120 price tag will only affect users who didn't upgrade in time or are building a new PC. Otherwise, like the future iterations of MacOS and the last few versions of OS X, Windows 10 will get free updates for the next decade.
Catching onto content and continuity
Aside from producing a handful of devices, Microsoft's main focus remains squarely in software, including its Office 365 productivity suite and a few mobile apps – and not to mention its cloud services business Azure.
Conversely, Apple caught on quickly to other ends of the software industry, namely digital media and the mobile app economy – arguably having a hand in their creation. The company's steady stream of revenue from these channels allowed it to adjust the pricing of its other software offerings, the ones that are sort of the keys into the company's castle of digital transactions.
As in, the operating system and its most important apps. They're now free on all Apple products, essentially. Free admission is an effective means of getting people into your stores. Because of this, tech customers have come to expect "free" updates for their expensive devices.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has only begun achieving a similar hardware-to-software ecosystem in a meaningful way within the past five years. It's turning the corner, but by nature Microsoft will never truly adopt a similar model whole cloth. It simply can't abandon what it's built.
And Microsoft will always be a software company first
Now, do you see why this free year of the Windows 10 upgrade couldn't go on for much longer? This release will vastly change the firm's approach to the operating system moving forward. And that's not only in that this will be – for all intents and purposes – the final version of Windows, but that eventually Windows 10 will reach ubiquity in its communities, and direct sales will dry up.
In the meantime, Microsoft needs to continue charging for the OS because it has little other means of subsidizing the cost of its creation. Thousands of people work hard on the creation, maintenance and development of an OS, work that has to be paid somehow. (If it works out, those costs will largely be covered in digital media and app sales before long.)
And, judging from the changes brought to bear in the Anniversary Update, they're working to make sure that every box earns your $120. Even if you somehow missed the free upgrade, you'll see the value in the new way of using Windows minutes after installing. (Just check out the features we've published this Windows 10 Week for more about that.)
Windows costs money now, frankly, because it has to. What I like to call "The Apple Effect" has caused consumers to always expect free major updates from their devices. Now, after you pay the $120 price of admission, you'll get the same treatment there on out from Microsoft.
But, since Microsoft doesn't have the same structure as its rivals, it has to work perhaps a little harder to earn your appreciation for its software. And maybe, just maybe that makes the difference between its OS and its rivals' products.
This article is part of TechRadar's Windows 10 week. Microsoft's latest operating system turned from a free to a paid upgrade on July 29, and we're looking to answer the question of whether it's good for you.
Troubleshooting with Gadwin PrintScreen
Solve PC problems with PrintScreen
Screen capture software makes it easy to guide less tech-savvy family members through the steps necessary to resolve problems with their PCs.
Clear images mean you can explain solutions via email or instant messaging, which is much more simple than using software like TeamViewer to take over their PC remotely or - worse still - struggle to help them over the phone ("Do you see the Settings button? It's the one shaped like a little gear. Ah, no, you've just closed the window...")
Windows has its own built-in Snipping Tool for taking and annotating screengrabs, but its options are very limited and you'll spend unnecessary time saving grabs manually, formatting them and moving them to the right folder. Gadwin PrintScreen is a superb free program that captures exactly what you want, converts it to the right format and sends it wherever you need it.
When you install Gadwin you'll see a small widget on your desktop containing capture tools and settings. This won't appear in any screen captures (unless you want it to), and can be hidden completely once you've set up some custom keyboard shortcuts.
The default setting captures the entire screen, but you can also capture only the active window or an area selected using your mouse. It's worth noting that the active window tool isn't perfect and occasionally grabs the wrong one, so you might prefer to stick with manual selection until Gadwin irons out this issue in a future update. The option to capture the cursor is very helpful for walking someone through a problem, so we recommend keeping it selected.
PrintScreen lets you preview screengrabs and make any necessary edits, or save them silently in the background if you prefer. By default it names each grab using the current date and time, but it's a good idea to choose the manual option and give each one a more descriptive title instead. The software will still keep a record of them in chronological order for future reference – very handy if you need to explain something step-by-step.
The settings button lets you choose how PrintScreen behaves before and after capturing a grab. When you're troubleshooting with a family member, the most useful of these is the ability to attach screen captures directly to an email. Simply press Print Screen, type some text and press 'Send'.
Alternatively, you can choose to save new captures in a particular folder. If you make this a folder within your Dropbox account then give your family member permission to see them, they'll have instant access to all your screengrabs as you take them.
If you're writing a tutorial to publish online rather than helping your dad install his new flight simulator, you might like to apply a watermark to each screengrab as you take it. PrintScreen can also resize each grab to your exact specifications so it's ready to be uploaded via FTP.
Thanks to PrintScreen, you'll never struggle to troubleshoot a PC over the phone again. "Now right-click the icon and choose Properties - no, you've just deleted it. Okay, let's start that bit again..."
MeeGo, Sailfish and BlackBerry 10
It's 2016, and the mobile world is two things: iOS and Android. The former, run by the world's most profitable company, began the smartphone boom. The latter, owned and administered by the world's foremost data-mining firm, expanded that boom to the farthest reaches of the globe.
Today, their dominance is so complete that it is almost impossible to imagine any alternate situation, for Android and iOS success is an inevitability, guaranteed and impossible to escape.
And yet this was not always the case. Since 2008 many firms, keen to get in on the lucrative smartphone game, have entered the fray with home-grown mobile operating systems. Some were beautiful, some were game-changing, some were just awful.
Sailfish OS, MeeGo, Firefox OS, BlackBerry 10, Windows Phone 7/8, WebOS: the past is littered with the detritus of many once great titans and smaller upstarts. Read on for a glimpse of what has passed, and what could have been.
Though the name 'Nokia' has not always been synonymous with smartphones, for many the first phone they owned came from the Finnish firm.
Indeed, in 2010 Nokia was the biggest phone manufacturer in the world, commanding over 40% of the total market at the time, a share that dwarfs that of any handset maker in the present. However, not all was well in Espoo HQ, despite the then healthy sales figures.
As with many companies that experience staggering success, Nokia got fat and complacent. Its internal structure grew bloated and incapable of reacting to quick changes. The firm subsequently failed to pay enough attention to the rise of Android and iOS, at least until 2011. It was then that the Nokia N9 was released, the first and only device to come bearing the MeeGo operating system.
Forged from code created at both Intel and Nokia, MeeGo was something slightly revolutionary. Boasting slim system requirements, an intuitive touch interface, message hubs and multitasking, the emphasis was on creating a flow through the user experience. The hope was it was something the opposition at the time simply couldn't match.
Ultimately, this system was a victim of the internal politics that would slowly claim Nokia's soul. Unconvinced by the potential of the system, and perhaps swayed by generous subsidies from Microsoft, CEO Stephen Elop published the famous 'burning platform' memo, burying MeeGo and the N9 in favor of Windows Phone.
Today the project exists only as a reminder of what could have been, and the tragic fall of Nokia into relative nothingness.
Created by a group of former Nokia engineers (with seed funding from the firm itself), Sailfish OS is heavily based on the code used in MeeGo. The only real difference is in the user interface, which had to be altered from the original 'Harmattan' version as Nokia retained the rights to this.
Instead, the user interacts with Sailfish through an innovative series of gestures, with minimal button inputs, again with the emphasis on flow. Apps are kept open, running in the background and can be pinned, as with MeeGo.
Jolla is the company behind the operating system (the name meaning "raft" in Finnish, and intended as a riposte to the 'burning platform' memo), and the life span of its products has been characterized by grand ambitions and neutered realities.
Offering the OS as a community project, Jolla has developed a small but devoted cult following around its product, but devices bearing the operating system, other than its own in-house effort, have been scant, even occasionally turning into vaporware.
2016 marked the birth of the first OEM device to come bearing Sailfish OS, the Intex Aqua Fish, intended solely for the Indian market. Jolla itself has since ceased production of its sole handset (the Jolla Phone), and the arrival of its first tablet has been somewhat botched as a result of a mismanaged Indiegogo campaign.
Now focusing solely on the production and refinement of its software offerings, things are still looking dicey for the firm, which recently had to accept a bailout following a difficult financial period.
Another operating system spawned from a former giant, as the name might infer, this was the brainchild of BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion [RIM]).
In the period spanning 2002 - 2010, RIM enjoyed something of a meteoric rise, especially among businesses. Arguably the first company to get mobile email 'right', its handsets enjoyed enormous success, with particular fondness being reserved for their ever-improving physical keyboards.
Yet, as with Nokia, BlackBerry failed to pay significant attention to the rise and rise of Android and iOS. Over time, as its consumer base began to crumble quickly, it doubled down on business, and believed that it had something of an ace in BlackBerry 10.
Sharing much of the same design DNA as MeeGo and Sailfish, BlackBerry 10 is built around gestures, allowing users to swipe right and left, as well as from all four corners of the screen, while background apps are 'pinned' to the home screen, running slightly like widgets in the background.
Innovative as it was, by the time the software was released Blackberry had missed the boat completely. Launching to little fanfare, adoption was muted, leading to a series of internal power struggles and strife at BlackBerry, which saw enormous job losses and a complete change in priorities.
With the firm now shifting its attentions to the greener pastures of Android, testing the water with the likes of 2015's excellent BlackBerry Priv and the 2016 BlackBerry DTEK50, the future of Blackberry 10 is one of interminable decline. It still remains committed to the platform, but the likelihood of new BB 10 hardware remains bleak.
Firefox OS, Palm OS/WebOS and Windows Phone
Mozilla is well-known for its popular web browser, Firefox, and yet the non-profit firm has also branched out into a number of different areas, some of them quite surprising.
On the surface, the drive towards creating an in-house, open-source operating system was to counter the decline of the open web, something that tech die-hards have been concerned about for some time. With the rise of apps and walled garden approaches to software, Mozilla decided to act.
The result was Firefox OS, focusing on the mobile web, HTML5 and a very low entry price. Indeed, though it proved to be non-existent in the end, much of the early conversation was dominated by Mozilla's promise of the first (usable) $25 smartphone, running Firefox OS.
As time went by Mozilla achieved some success, managing to sell a small number of devices in Columbia and Venezuela, among other countries, but nothing like the quantities needed either to break even or to gain any market share.
The result was obsolescence and as the media train moved on interest in Firefox OS waned. Mozilla itself, lacking the resources of a Google or an Apple, proved to be seemingly only half-interested in its offering and eventually closed the mobile OS for good in the latter quarter of 2015.
Much like Palm OS (another entry on this list) though, the software lives on - in televisions. Panasonic now employs an altered version in many of its units, giving it an afterlife as part of the 'Internet of Things' (widely regarded as one of the worst tech newspeak terms since 'phablet' came into existence).
Before Nokia and BlackBerry got into the touchscreen smartphone game, before Android began to explode and when the Apple iPhone was still a hobbled little thing there was Palm and WebOS.
Sporting a much imitated gesture interface, card-based multitasking (which has been aped by everyone since) and many other futuristic features, WebOS was arguably the first operating system that introduced the concept of "smart" to smartphones.
Soon, the tide began to turn. Apple brought out the iconic iPhone 4 while Android advanced its appeal considerably through the likes of the HTC Desire. Interest in WebOS began to wane, not helped by HP's seeming inability to find a vision for its new product.
Shortly following the abortive launch of the HP TouchPad in 2011 (49 days to be precise), HP abandoned WebOS and all devices running the software.
This marked the end of WebOS on smartphones, however the operating system has since found new life through LG, with the firm including it - to significant acclaim - in its smart televisions.
Windows Phone 7 and 8
And now to the granddaddy of them all, at least in terms of money and effort spent. Windows Phone was Microsoft's answer to the Android/iOS duopoly, intended to have the strengths of both and the weaknesses of neither.
Sporting a bold new design and a daring interface utilizing 'live tiles', Windows Phone had a focus on simplicity and usability over unnecessary features and frippery.
Exercising total control over specifications and updates, Microsoft was able to keep the software experience tight and focused, leaving manufacturers to be inventive with their hardware, rather than over-complicating the user interface.
First debuting at MWC in 2010, Windows Phone 7 was a breath of fresh air, and enjoyed some not insignificant hardware support from PC OEMs – such as Dell, HP and Acer - looking to get in on the smartphone boom.
Initial enthusiasm led to a quick drop off in support, and soon Windows Phone 7 began to drift. Sensing the lack of momentum, Microsoft rebooted (knowing its way around a blue screen or six) with Windows Phone 8.
Sporting more functionality, and eventually the popular voice assistant Cortana, Windows Phone 8 nonetheless still failed to ignite the global market with a poorly stocked app store at the heart of the issues.
Now, the picture is grim. Microsoft has rebooted once again, this time with Windows 10 Mobile, another rejiggering of its mobile dream. However, with a lack of investment, in both funds and willpower, the platform is beginning to wilt badly, with the paucity of apps becoming even more problematic with several first party developers pulling out entirely (even Amazon is reported to be leaving the game).
Microsoft's mobile vision looks to be grinding to a halt, and it might take a true miracle to save it.
- For an operating system that isn't likely to fail check out iOS 10
Well, here we are. The free upgrade period for Windows 10 ended on July 29. You had a year to upgrade to Windows 10 for free, but you put it off, and put it off, and now it’s too late.
Or is it? There is no longer an official way to upgrade to Windows 10 without paying a cent. But there are a few loopholes making the rounds on the Internet that apparently allow you to still get a free upgrade.
We haven’t tested all of these methods to see if they’ll work. But we can tell you that all of these methods require you to check your morals at the door.