It took Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) 12 years to end support for Windows XP, but some users of the company's current operating system, Windows 8.1, could find themselves in the same boat as XP users a mere eight months after the update to the original Windows 8 was released.
The company is not abandoning its Windows 8.1 platform; it is instead pushing customers to install the latest version of it. If users fail to add the update, their computers won't lock up or shut down, but they will become vulnerable.
"All future security and non-security updates will be built on these latest product updates, so existing Windows 8.1 customers will need to be running these latest product updates in order to continue to receive future product improvements and security updates," the company wrote on a Microsoft blog.
You don't have to install the update, but failing to do so will leave your computer open to viruses and to various apps and software not working. Hackers are also likely to target machines with a known vulnerability, so the risks in not updating are high.
This seems a bit aggressive from Microsoft
The move to force users into an update to a product that hasn't been very well received in the first place seems a bit like Microsoft slapping its best customers in the face. There is more sense behind the decision, however, as Microsoft is attempting to shift its update model away from big releases into a more rapid cadence of feature improvements. To accomplish that the company has to figure out how to change consumers' attitudes toward installing Windows updates.
Microsoft traditionally releases any security patches to its operating system and software on the first Tuesday of the month and many Windows users have the automatic updates feature turned on so the install just happens in the background or when they restart their computer. For users who have not selected automatic updates, however, Microsoft has had a hard time getting some to install the time-consuming updates.
Why are people slow or unwilling to install upgrades? "Probably because they are busy and the update process is a disruption to their work-flow, taking time and enforcing a reboot," David Tuffley wrote on LifeHacker. "The user then has to reopen their applications and reload their work in progress. People probably think, 'I'll do that later,' but they seldom do."
Microsoft has moved back an April deadline for people to install the upgrade to May 13, but for anyone who chooses not to install it (or just doesn't), no new updates or security patches will be visible to them until they install the Windows 8.1 update.
Microsoft is taking a strong-arm tactic here that may not sit well with some users -- especially given the short time the current install of Windows 8.1 has been the main supported version of the OS.
Windows 8 is gaining share
Microsoft has had some success in slowly getting its own audience to switch to Windows 8, which had about an 11.3% share of the PC market in March, according to Wall Street Journal, behind leader Windows 7 at 48.8%. The company is in the midst of a potentially huge growth period for Windows 8 -- PC sales have spiked since the company dropped support for Windows XP (which still was on around one in every three PCs, in March according to the Journal) and many of those customers are likely to buy Windows 8 machines.
Many of those new Windows 8 machines will have the non-updated version of the OS installed, requiring customers to perform the update, though updating a just-out-of-the-box machine is more expected and might not seem like a large imposition. Still in creating an added roadblock for customers to use its computers, tablets, and other devices, Microsoft makes itself even more vulnerable to the growing threat of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) OS, which has been rapidly building market share. Making the Windows 8 experience more of a hassle even in a small way seems like a huge risk, especially when many customers are more willing to consider non-PC and laptop devices -- categories in which Microsoft is trying to gain a foothold that have so far been dominated by Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS.
Windows business is still key for Microsoft
Windows is no longer the main revenue driver for Microsoft but it's still very important to the company's overall financial health. The Office division is the company's most profitable and the Server/Tools division brought in more revenue (but made less money), according to Microsoft's 2013 financial reports, which showed an overall $26 billion profit. But while the numbers may not be as big as they once were, the Windows division still brought in over $19 billion in 2013, producing a profit of over $9 billion.
Microsoft has already angered Windows XP users (however unfair their criticism may be) and Windows 8 has generally been met with a less-than-enthusiastic reaction, so resorting to threatening vulnerability to viruses to the user base of the beleaguered operating system is not a great idea. The strategy to fix Windows 8 by returning the much-missed Start Menu is sound as is the idea of rolling out updates faster, but Microsoft is making a mistake using strong-arm tactics to reach an admirable goal.
The Windows revenue stream is already threatened and its users (especially those nice enough to buy Windows 8) need to be treated with kid gloves by Microsoft in order to keep them from defecting to Android or iOS. If that means supporting Windows 8.1 for a longer period until the vast majority of users have upgraded on their own, then Microsoft should do that. There are ways to incentivize people to upgrade and Microsoft would do well here to offer a carrot instead of resorting to the stick.
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Daniel Kline is long Microsoft. He is dreading running the update on his Surface. The Motley Fool recommends Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Google (C shares) and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.