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article imageNo, Microsoft isn't introducing a Windows 10 subscription fee

By James Walker     Jul 4, 2016 in Technology
A file buried deep inside the latest Windows 10 Insider Preview build has raised some concern among Windows users. It appears to hint at a future in which the software may no longer be free, opening the door to an Office 365-style Windows subscription.
Uncovered by ZDNet's Ed Bott, Windows 10 preview build 14376 includes something new in its System32 folder, where some of Windows' most important files are stored. A 69KB executable program appears to suggest Microsoft may be planning a move to a subscription model when charging for Windows, confirming the fears of many Windows 10-sceptics since the platform's launch.
When Microsoft unveiled Office 365 five years ago, it introduced a major overhaul of how it charges for one of its most important products. Previously, you bought Office on a CD and used it on one computer. You'd have to buy a new copy every three or so years to get the latest version, paying upfront for the full value of the software.
With Office 365, you get Office in a subscription format, paying around $10 each month for access to the latest version of every Office app across a multitude of devices. For the same price as a Spotify subscription, Microsoft promises the ultimate in mobile productivity, an offer that has proven attractive to consumers and businesses alike.
The success of Office 365 has long inspired rumours that Microsoft could move Windows to a similar approach. With Windows 10, Microsoft redefined how it charges for Windows, allowing everyone using Windows 7 or 8.1 to upgrade to the new OS for free and for life. When the free upgrade offer ends on July 29, you'll have to buy a Windows 10 retail license at a cost of $99, following Microsoft's traditional software licensing model.
It seems feasible that the company could transition Windows to a subscription-based payment. Instead of charging $99 upfront, it could introduce a $10 per month recurring fee to continue using Windows on your devices, bringing in regular revenue that across several years would total more than buying a license outright. Bott's discovery hasn't allayed the fears of those who consider Microsoft's "Windows as a Service" Windows 10 branding to mean more than is initially apparent.
The executable in question has the filename "UpgradeSubscription.exe" and a description "Windows Upgrade to Subscription tool." With those attributes, it's easy to see why some people are getting concerned.
However, there's currently no evidence that Microsoft is actually moving Windows to a subscription model. The company confirmed to Bott that the file has nothing to do with charging for Windows and isn't something that is designed to be exposed to consumers.
The executable actually has a far more innocent purpose. It's targeted at businesses running Windows 10 and allows them to easily upgrade from Windows 10 Pro to Windows 10 Enterprise, a version of Windows that isn't available to consumers and includes features specifically for business environments. The Enterprise edition is already charged as a subscription of sorts through Microsoft's volume licensing program, giving businesses hundreds or thousands of Windows licenses to deploy across their networks.
"The Windows Upgrade to Subscription tool, found in the latest Windows Insider builds, helps to manage certain volume licensing upgrades from Windows 10 Pro Anniversary Update to Windows 10 Enterprise," Microsoft said to ZDNet. "This binary file is not associated with the free consumer upgrade offering nor is it applicable to consumer Windows editions."
Fears of Microsoft switching to a subscription model for Windows don't seem to be going away. While the company has seen success with Office 365, consumers seem to be a lot more sceptical of paying out regular fees just to keep their computer's operating system licensed. People expect Windows to "just work" and paying a monthly subscription to continue using it isn't likely to go down well.
As with other alerts, "UpgradeSubscription.exe" has turned out to be nothing to do with the licensing of consumer Windows versions, despite speculation by users and the media. Windows 10 remains free for the next month. Beyond that, a license for life will cost $99 for Windows 10 Home or $199 for Windows 10 Pro, giving you the continuous updates of "Windows as a Service" at no additional cost.
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