At the BUILD conference Microsoft announced that Windows is free for all mobile devices with screens smaller than nine inches. That means for phones and some tablets, Windows is basically free.. as in beer. Awesome!
Let’s back up for a minute and really think about this. The last few years, Microsoft has gone from a joke in the mobile world to having a respectable OS that a lot of people like. The uptake hasn’t been great, but that was before the price was free (and before universal Windows apps were announced at BUILD today). Microsoft is offering you a little free candy so that they can hook you on the hard stuff later. The hard stuff is Microsoft Azure and a ticket into the emerging Microsoft cloud services ecosystem, encompassing cloud services, media services, data services, and partner apps and services.
Unlike a PC, a mobile device is of limited utility without a robust back-end. Microsoft is banking on that fact. Sure, they can give you the mobile OS for free.. but what they’re giving you is basically useless. Only the most trivial apps can function without a set of data, processing, integration, etc. services powering them. Microsoft hopes that by giving away the OS, they’ll grow bigger market share (they will) and that this will in turn give them a chance to push app developers into the waiting maw of Azure (it probably will).
About the only thing that can get in the way of success here is a price war that’s recently gone hot.