Windows for free: viable strategy?

One thing that struck me today is a recollection of an earlier attempt by Microsoft to sell limited versions of Windows for prices far below normal. Remember Windows Starter Edition?

Now, while those products never really went anywhere, I think Microsoft is starting to feel the pinch from other platforms, particularly in the mobile space, that have a very low-cost operating system. Particularly Android.

But now they have a whole new ecosystem in Windows, one that they get a cut of all software sales for, but lacks some momentum. Since they make their money on the software, why not give the OS away for free? Specifically, why not have your SKU lineup like this:

  • Windows -> Metro only (like current RT versions) available free for all platforms for personal use
  • Windows Home Premium -> Replaces current Windows Home, includes desktop, $99
  • Windows Pro -> Same as current
  • Windows Enterprise -> Same as current

What effect would this have? You'd lose the licensing fees for RT, but that can't be much right now. You'd lose some Windows Home licenses too, to people who are willing to live without a desktop. But you'd pick up users for your new platform whose needs are basic and who aren't willing to pay much. You'd pick up a lot of hobbyist users for your new platform who just want to try it out on various hardware. At least some of these would use Anytime Upgrade to add on the Home Premium bits. You'd hopefully gain some more OEM interest on ARM platforms, and lower the retail price on mobile devices. And by expanding the Metro platform, you give developers a lot more reason to develop for it, and a lot more opportunities for people to buy their apps through the Windows Store, which is revenue for you.

I would assume they've kicked this idea around already, and maybe there are reasons that it isn't feasible at the current time. But I can see a lot of advantages, and if they're serious about jumping the Metro platform to the next level, I think this would go a long way to doing that.