Microsoft touts 300M Windows 10 devices, reiterates July end to free upgrade

But skeptics continue to doubt that the company will kill the free upgrade

Microsoft today said that 300 million "active devices" are running Windows 10, a boost of 30 million, for an increase of 11%, in the last five weeks.

The Redmond, Wash. company also warned customers that the Windows 10 free upgrade offer would end July 29, and urged them to grab the deal before it vanishes.

"Time is running out. The free upgrade offer will end on July 29 and we want to make sure you don't miss out," said Yusuf Mehdi, a senior executive in the Windows and devices group, in a post to a company blog Thursday.

After July 29, Mehdi added, customers can get Windows 10 pre-installed on a new device, or pay the full price for a Windows 10 license to upgrade their current system. The consumer-grade Windows 10 Home costs $119, while Windows 10 Pro -- which adds some corporate-specific features -- runs $199.

Some had previously speculated that Microsoft would extend the free upgrade after the end of July, rationalizing that the company would want to continue building the user base. But in March, Directions on Microsoft analyst Wes Miller dismissed such talk.

"If they extend [the free deal] past July, they might as well as extend it forever," Miller said then. "The longer Windows 10 is free, the harder it becomes to end it. Microsoft is cognizant of that."

Even so, and even with Mehdi's call to upgrade before the offered ends, some Microsoft watchers remain skeptical that the deal would expire. ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, for instance, pointed to Microsoft's language in its follow-up statement to her. "The free upgrade promotion is currently slated to end on July 29," Microsoft told Foley [emphasis added].

Like virtually all companies, Microsoft carefully chooses its words in its public pronouncements, and typically uses vagueness like "currently slated" to give it an out if, say, it changes its mind.

But Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, pitched in on the side of skeptics. "I don't think that the upgrade will end," Moorhead said in an interview today. "It will continue, likely as a lower-priced version. Microsoft is going to ride the free upgrade as long as they can possibly can."

Moorhead bet that Microsoft would extend the offer, one way or another, at least once or twice, keeping it around "until it feels comfortable that no one else will upgrade."

On the numbers front, Microsoft continued its habit of trumpeting not only Windows 10's growth, but also a host of peripheral statistics on usage, likely driven by its desire to portray the OS as as much a service as software. Mehdi, for example, ballyhooed the billions of minutes customers had spent on Edge in March, and the billions of hours users had occupied themselves playing games on Windows 10 devices since its debut.

Moorhead applauded the usage numbers from Microsoft, calling them a proof of engagement.

"It's a positive mark," said Moorhead of Microsoft's statistics. "Windows has had its reputation thrust on it by the competition, who claim that Windows users are not engaged in doing this or doing that. But this is all part of the messages to [Microsoft's] ecosystems. To the hardware OEMs, it '[Windows 10] is a growing and thriving environment, and you should have confidence in making devices.' To developers, it's all about UWP [Universal Windows Platform] apps."

To most, the important number is 300 million, described this time as "active devices," as opposed to the "active users" metric Microsoft used previously. It was unclear whether the change reflected a true difference.

Microsoft's 300 million includes not only personal computers -- which obviously compose the bulk -- but also tablets, smartphones, Xbox One game consoles and other hardware. That explained the difference between Microsoft's number and the latest estimate generated by Computerworld, which, based on analytics vendor Net Applications' user share data and the often-cited total of 1.5 billion Windows PCs worldwide, pegged the OS on 259 million personal computers during April.

It was no great surprise, then, that the growth over that month as expressed by Net Applications and Microsoft were similar: Microsoft claimed an increase of 30 million, while Net Applications' data signaled a slightly smaller 24 million.

"I think Microsoft is proving to everybody that Windows 10 is a third viable platform," said Moorhead. "iOS and Android didn't kill Windows."

Microsoft plans to release the next major upgrade to Windows 10, dubbed "Anniversary Update," this summer. Mehdi did not divulge a specific date today, but many expect that the upgrade will ship near, or even on, July 29.

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