Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or


Microsoft should release XP for free

Filed under: — adam @ 3:47 pm

It is well known that free products are used more widely than products that people have to pay for. If Vista is so much better, then people will still pay money for it, and having more installations of XP around to keep people using Windows apps instead of switching to Mac or Linux can only be a good thing for Microsoft, whose continued success depends not only on agreements with PC manufacturers, but also on the continued existence of Windows-only software that people need to run. This benefits Microsoft, and will result in more sales of Vista (and subsequent versions), as other software vendors evolve into the same “The XP version is free, but if you want the premium version, you need Vista” pattern. Essentially – XP becomes the shareware limited demo version of Windows, and you pay if you want the full version.

This obviously benefits the consumer, because free is good, and there are plenty of places (VMs, especially), where it would be useful to run XP, but where the current price is cost prohibitive. Making XP free would open up the Windows market to those potential customers.

Anyone who’s switching to Mac or Linux has already made the decision to do it, and isn’t turning back because they can’t run Windows in a VM… because they already can. This would just make everyone’s life easier, and generate a LOT more goodwill for Microsoft than they have now.

Microsoft, despite being ridiculously profitable, is in danger of losing relevance. This is one way to combat that.

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2 Responses to “Microsoft should release XP for free”

  1. David Fenton Says:

    Microsoft more than just about any other software maker knows perfectly well that “good enough ” is often the enemy of “better.” MS would be out of business if that were not so.

    The biggest competitors to Microsoft Office 2007 are MS Office 2003, MS Office XP, MS Office 2000 and, yes, even MS Office 97.

    By your logic, had Sony somehow made Betamax free, it would have beaten VHS. It didn’t happen because markets are not based on merit, but on a web of characteristics, including network effects that can be much stronger than the pull of a better product (in the case of VHS, it was possibly Sony’s refusal to allow pornography to be distributed on Betamax, so that pornographers went to VHS instead).

  2. adam Says:

    I think it’s slightly different. With respect to Office, Microsoft still has a lock on the market, and despite their differences, the various versions of Office are all just different tools for editing Office files. If the free alternatives actually worked even nearly as well as the various versions of Office at editing those files, they’d be serious competitors for people who need to share files. They don’t, and they’re not.

    Arguably, for many things that people want to use a computer for, there are a number of “good enoughs”. If it’s a choice between two “good enoughs”, neither of which makes any money for Microsoft, wouldn’t they prefer the one that encourages people to continue using programs that run on their platform instead? Every person who decides on a Linux or Mac desktop is pretty much gone from the Microsoft roadmap for the foreseeable future, and probably isn’t going to pay to come back anytime soon. But they could be lured back at least partially with a free OS.

    I don’t understand your analogy to Betamax.

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