"We started out as a company that was focused on developers…we’re again in that era now," proclaimed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Take free Windows on small devices, for example. Ten years ago, the concept of giving away the crown jewel of Microsoft’s product portfolio would have been unthinkable, but the rules have changed: Android and iOS are in charge. Exciting new hardware like Pebble, Nest, and various fitness wearables are emerging, leaving Windows behind. Microsoft will now compete directly with Android’s model, a move that will result in cheaper devices for consumers, and — as Nadella undoubtedly hopes, anyway — more devices for developers to target.
While Microsoft has been promising "three screens and a cloud" for years now, it’s finally starting to align Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox to pull that promise off. The so-called universal Windows apps shown at Build can run across PCs, phones, and televisions alike, significantly reducing the amount of work developers need to do. You could buy an app on Windows and not have to buy it again on Windows Phone, all while running it on your TV with an Xbox One — and the developer would’ve only had to make a single app to do it.
Microsoft will make Windows free of charge for phones and tablets with screens smaller than 9 inches, a move designed to help boost the company's market share. The announcement comes alongside plans to let developers make universal applications that work on all devices running Microsoft's software — both Windows Phone and Windows. That feature is headed to Windows 8.1 as well as Windows Phone 8.1, which was also detailed on stage and is arriving on mobile devices in the next few months.
Microsoft has been experimenting with a free, or low-cost version of "Windows 8.1 with Bing," which includes a handful of Microsoft apps and services aimed at Windows 7 users. It's unclear if this is the result of that effort. Microsoft simply referred to the new, free version as "Windows for Internet of Things," and is including a free year of Office 365.
Microsoft recently cut the price of Windows 8.1 licenses by 70 percent for some PC makers, reductions aimed at taking on low-cost tablets and Google Chromebooks that sell for less than $250. Previously Microsoft charged $50 per Windows 8.1 license.
The next complete version of Windows is being referred to as Windows 9, though this may change. And a new codename has appeared - Threshold, possibly in refrence to moving across from our reliance on the desktop to a new world where the Start screen is at the heart of how we use Windows.
We don't know if Windows 9 will be available as an upgrade from Windows 7 that you can buy as a standalone product or if you'll have to have Windows 8 to get the upgrade. But it may not be with us for a while yet - Windows business chief Tami Reller has talked about "multiple selling seasons" for Windows 8, meaning that we'll likely have several versions of it.
Some rumours have suggested late 2014 or early 2015 for a Windows 9 release, though the former seems wide of the mark.
In January 2014, well-known Microsoft blogger Paul Thurrott said he believes the company plans to release Windows 9 (codenamed Threshold) in April 2015, less than three years after Windows 8.