Windows will be available free of charge by 2017, according to a leading analyst firm.
In line with recent moves by Microsoft, including making Windows 8 free for devices under 9-inch screens, and taking Office to a cloud-based, subscription network, analyst firm Gartner predicts consumer editions of Windows will be completely free by 2017, while the enterprise edition will be available on a subscription basis.
Gartner research VP Michael Silver told Computing: "By 2017, Windows will be free for consumers, but likely there will still be a charge for enterprise users, and organisations will be faced with various bundles of extra features.
"But for consumers we do believe that it will be free. But the question is when, and is that on new machines, or as an upgrade?"
Considering the case of the so-called Windows 9 release, which is looking more and more like a Windows 8.2 "point release" than a fully-fledged new operating system, Silver believes "Windows 9" could in fact be the first free consumer Windows release - but with limitations.
Silver suggested "Windows 9" may be nothing more than a rebranding exercise for an OS that "has a certain amount of negative brand equity", in order to present "a much better marketing opportunity".
But moving ahead, Windows will cut loose entirely from software upgrades and become a subscription model for the enterprise, Silver believes.
"We want to say by 2017 we think Windows will be free, and we're thinking free period - for OEM, new machines and upgrades. But it's possible that Microsoft will decide to make Windows 9 a free upgrade [just] for Windows 8 users."
Silver believes Microsoft's business strategy has to change, as it's the only software company in the world "to make any significant money off an operating system", and this can't last.
"The writing had been on the wall for years that Windows revenue was going to decline," he told Computing. "But with Office 365, that is Microsoft's attempt to keep Office relevant."
Silver believes a subscription model similar to Office 365 - not to mention the regular Office suite which went to the cloud back in 2012 - will be the model on which a subscription Windows could be based.
"It's all around subscription, and that goes beyond Windows," he said.