So would you? Would you run an ad-based operating system? Maybe the OS would be cheap, or free, and in a bar across the top would run ads that you can’t remove, would you run that on your machine? Everything else worked fine, there were just ads on it. Maybe the ads took the form of a pre-install spyware machine, with the occasional pop-up and a start page you can’t change. Or maybe the ad was a wallpaper that changes every 30 minutes to a new ad. Would that be worth the cost of an OS? According to a leaked memo, Microsoft has at least been exploring the idea.
The company’s exploration of ad-supported software extends even to Windows, its most important product. An ad-supported version of the operating system could make some sense, the Microsoft researchers argue in their Thinkweek piece, noting that the product reportedly earns $9 per year per user.
“It seems possible that we could match that revenue via ads, but there are difficult UI (user interface) issues to solve, since the OS does not have a natural way to display ads that does not annoy users,” the Microsoft workers said in the paper. One suggestion is a low-end version of the operating system that comes bundled with other ad-supported programs, such as Works, Outlook Express and Windows Media Player. However, the writers point out that “it’s not clear how to prevent these elements from being replaced.”
Good point. How long would it take for the “abOS” (short for Ad Based Operating System, its my term remember it if this comes to fruition.) to be hacked allowing people to use it for free? Of course Microsoft already has to deal with this problem today with their regular versions of Windows. Most likely the users that have the means to hack it would not be the same users the abOS would be targeted at, but still other issues remain. Would any one really want it if you can run to Linux, which is ad and cost free to begin with? Would the cost of a regular retail install of Windows go up to cover the gamble of the ad version? Or could this be a genius stroke and everyone would have this on their computers (why not have a copy of Windows, just in case, if its free?) allowing Microsoft to just rake in advertising cash. And lastly…what if Microsoft Windows won’t be the first product to create/enter this market? Maybe the infamous GoogleOS?
Whether they would be first to market or not, the only OS that matters in the possible future Ad-Based OS market would be Windows. Sure Google could throw something out there and stick a “Beta” tag to it and be first, but most likely it would be some variant of *nix, and thats not exactly special. Those that cared about a GoogleOS most likely already have an *nix machine somewhere and after the initial “Holy crap Google did something new!” wave, people would see nothing is new and it would die. Of course Google could do something new a cool with an Ad Based OS, but when does Google ever do anything truly original? Microsoft would be the one and only player that could have a chance to pull this off because they are the OS that 90% of the world runs, and people that live in a Window-less home would probably take a free copy to have around or dual-boot on a machine so that in the one instance they needed it, it would be there, ads or not. Usually these people pirate Windows, but if they are given a free and legal option, I’m sure most would take it. Also, don’t forget about the business market, you may be using an Ad-based Windows no matter what if your cheap employer decides to save a few bucks.
Though I doubt this will happen anytime soon, or at all, this potential market truly is Microsoft’s to take a chance on or let it die on the vine. Now the Ad-Based (and possibly web-based) office software, thats another story entirely.