Windows Cloud: should Microsoft mimic Chrome OS?

Redmond giant could be working on Chrome OS rival in order to offer a free or cheap version of Windows

Jane McCallion
22 Apr 2014

Microsoft is developing a cloud-based version of Windows that could go head-to-head with Google’s Chrome OS, according to a new leak.

The operating system, reportedly called Windows Cloud, will offer users a fully-functional OS when connected to the internet, as well as featuring a basic offline mode.

The rumoured OS sounds similar to Google’s Chrome OS, despite Microsoft having recently slated the cloud-driven platform as part of a long-running anti-Google campaign.

According to analysts, it's likely that Microsoft is developing a cloud-focused OS - but it's not clear if it will ever be released.

It’s almost certain that there will be a group in Microsoft working on this

"It’s almost certain that there will be a group in Microsoft working on this," David Bradshaw, research manager of European SaaS and Cloud Services at IDC, told PC Pro. "Whether or not (or how soon) a Microsoft cloud-OS will see the light of day depends on Microsoft’s evaluation of the threat from Chrome OS.

“Although Chrome OS doesn’t seem to be making serious inroads into Microsoft’s OS business, [the company] … needs to have a range of responses ready to deploy [if it does]," he added.

Mobile response

Owen Rogers, senior analyst for digital economics at 451 Research, told PC Pro that if such an OS is in development, it may have more to do with mobile devices than Google.

"Tablets and mobile phones are being increasingly used by consumers, but these devices have limited technical capability such as storage space and processor power," he said.

"The cloud has potentially unlimited technical prowess, which can be delivered for low-cost," he added. "So a cloud-focused operating system could deliver performance and capability to tablet users who otherwise might be unable to gain such benefits."

Free version?

The Windows Cloud rumour is part of a larger clutch of leaks on other updates, including Windows 8.2 and Windows 9, from prominent Russian leaker Wzor (via WinBeta), who is well known for publishing information on pre-release builds of Windows.

The leak offers no word on pricing for the rumoured OS, however there has been speculation Microsoft is considering a free version of Windows 8.1.

Rogers and Bradshaw are split on how likely this is.

"Freemium software is win-win for both consumers and vendors," said Rogers. "By penetrating the market with a free operating system, Microsoft could not only bring in more paid customers, but may also make Windows more appealing to the greater public. Microsoft is already doing this with Office for iPad."

Bradshaw said that while "the new leadership will want to have a range of strategic options available to maintain the OS business, including new ways of pricing," he doesn't “see them giving it away to end customers, as that would cannibalise the existing OS revenue."

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