How subscription-based Windows 12 upgrades are changing the platform

There’s been a lot of talk about Microsoft forcing users to pay a subscription to upgrade to Windows 12 after Windows preview builds referenced a subscription model. Subscriptions are a big part of Microsoft’s business model though – see Microsoft 365 and Xbox. Game Pass, among other things – it would be a huge leap for the company to get a subscription to the Windows operating system. At this point, we’ve debunked the rumor, but we’ve determined that the subscription references in Windows are for enterprise versions of the operating system. But what will the subscription-based version of Windows look like and how will it change the platform?



Windows users often do not upgrade their operating system

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3

The simple reason why Windows as a platform is changing to a subscription model is that fewer people are upgrading. In recent years, Microsoft has made Windows upgrades from older versions free. When you purchase a Windows activation license, generally, operating system upgrades are included. This has its limitations, as we saw with Microsoft’s decision not to accept Windows 7 product keys for Windows 11 upgrades. But even with Microsoft’s generous approach to operating system upgrades, Windows users don’t switch to newer versions of the operating system as often as macOS users.

According to a September report by StatCounter, just over 3 percent of Windows devices will still be running Windows 7 — the operating system released in 2009 — in 2023. That’s true even though Microsoft is ending Windows 7 security support in It ended earlier this year. The most common Windows operating system you can find is Windows 10, which was released in 2015 and is installed on more than 70% of Windows devices. Windows 11, the latest version of Windows released in 2021, has only 23% of the Windows device market share. These numbers show that Windows users don’t upgrade as often, even if the update is free.

Even fewer systems are upgraded with a subscription model

Surface Laptop Studio 2 (12)

Now if Windows moved to a subscription model? It is reasonable to assume that the Windows upgrade will suddenly stop. Windows users usually keep their current operating system over the new operating system for several reasons, including familiarity and program support. Because the Windows platform is widely used in the enterprise and education sectors, many IT departments prefer to keep their devices on the operating system they have workflows for before learning a new system. If you add the cost of monthly or annual subscriptions to the mix, it’s unlikely that companies and individual users will upgrade at the same rate as they do now.

This is mostly speculation, but we can look to a similar transition for evidence of how companies and users will react to the shift in the subscription model. The flagship Creative Cloud Suite was originally sold with a perpetual license as an option, but ended with Adobe CS6. Between 2011 and 2012, Adobe decided to abandon this model in favor of a subscription. While many users eventually switched to Adobe Creative Cloud subscriptions, many did not. I personally know a few companies and organizations that are still using Adobe CS6 applications because they don’t want to switch to a subscription. If you look at the Adobe community forums, there are still people trying to use or buy CS6 in 2023 instead of a Creative Cloud subscription.

Why will Windows Subscription be less successful than Creative Cloud?

Surface Go 4 in tablet mode on display

Adobe’s Creative Cloud migration is the closest comparison we can make to a potential Windows subscription model, but they are two very different services. Adobe’s goal for Creative Cloud subscriptions was to get your money’s worth by constantly adding new features and fixing bugs quickly. With an Adobe CC subscription, you get added features for weeks instead of years. The same argument cannot be made for an operating system. There are users who are using a version of Windows 7 that is more than a decade old, and most users are still using Windows 10. Changes and upgrades in each operating system version are not enough to justify a monthly or yearly subscription.

Microsoft knows this and will not switch to a subscription model

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As much as the idea excites clicks, it’s safe to say that Windows 12 won’t switch to a subscription model for personal users. As StatCounter’s market share report shows, most Windows users are currently not interested in upgrading their operating system. Along with the fact that previous examples of these changes have proven that users will stick with the software they have, it’s clear that Windows 12 will fail as a subscription. We may see more features added to Microsoft 365 that require a subscription, but the standard Windows 12 operating system isn’t going that way anytime soon.

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