Microsoft patent hints at pay-as-you-go OS

Windows shopping cartA Microsoft patent application from June 2005, published only today, titled “System and method for delivery of a modular operating system” may signal a fundamental change for what an operating systems stands for and how it is sold.

Today, an operating system has pretty much everything besides the kitchen sink. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if an obscure Linux distribution included that too. Some people expect an operating system to be feature-packed with multimedia players, games and even productivity suites. Others just want to play Solitaire. Where do you draw the line for the fundamentals? And where do you draw the line for features?

I don’t use or could potentially see the use for what half of the Windows operating system comes with. Why should I pay for HyperTerminal or IPv6 when I don’t use it?

A modularized operating system may be the answer. As this patent describes,

An operating system and method for use include a core function module, or basic kernel, providing fundamental operating system support and one or more add-on modules that allow customization of the operating system as desired. Add-on modules may provide support or extended capability to the computer including hardware, applications, peripherals, and support.

Simply put, think of LEGO bricks. You start with a base board and attach the bricks you want. You decide on what you want and don’t want. You could end up with a Lego Mac or Lego PC.

The basic kernel may supply functions such as basic memory management, system input/output, boot processes, file system support, and fundamental display capabilities. … A basic kernel add-on module may provide support for additional memory or multiple processors, for example.

As the patent illustrates, add-on modules may be divided into four categories: hardware, peripherals, communication and applications/bundles. Examples of modules include but not limited to power management, multi-processor support, peripheral support and network interfaces.

Of course, this doesn’t mean installing an operating system will mean installing 500 separate modules just to boot.

While most of the capabilities discussed in the following are also shown above, application specific packages or bundled add-on modules may be used to provide easy support for users having a specific interest.

For example, a power user may want specific window and background themes with associated styles, a significant number of concurrent windows, and an unlimited number of concurrent applications, up to the capacity of the hardware.

A game support pack including advanced sound support, game controller support, and increased video memory may be of interest to those users primarily interested in interactive games.

Users of business support applications may benefit from a support pack including high speed disk access, network drive support, and network printing, for example.

Modularized operating system

This patent also describes the business-model for selling such an operating system. For example, the basic kernel could come at a very low or even dare I say, free price. But knowing Microsoft, I doubt it. Add-on modules could either be free, sold at a price, or even sold as a subscription. The idea of paying a monthly fee to use an operating system might seem outrageous at first, but the same concept has been widely adopted with loaning cars and for most people, it works out to be more economical.

Ultimately, this concept can be good or evil. On one hand, if the cost of modules is priced favorably, most people could save on the cost of operating systems by only purchasing the bare minimum. On the other hand, users who want it all might end up paying even more compared to what they had previously.

For now, this is nothing more than just a patent (application). Whether or not Microsoft actually implements such a plan might be years away or even never.

By following a process such as that described above, users benefit from the flexibility to add only those capabilities to an operating system which are of value, and, in some cases, for a period of time as needed. Operating system vendors may also benefit by reduced piracy of full capacity operating systems in favor of widely available core operating systems that are easily upgradable in affordable increments. Lastly, service providers or system operators who may be providing computers on a pay-as-you-go or pay-per-use basis may be able to limit installation of potentially harmful applications or hardware peripherals by restricting the installation of required operating system add-on modules.

But for the record, I think this is a great idea. Even if it does sound a little like Linux/Unix.

35 insightful thoughts

  1. Somehow though I’m sure Microsoft will find a way to justify the $100 price tag of the “essential” Lego bricks in an OS.

    How is this “modular” OS any different than what I have now. I don’t need the latest version of Windows Media Player so I don’t download it. I don’t need to download IE7 because I’m a diehard Firefox fan (kidding, of course). Point is, this system already exists.

    Also, consumers are dumb. You put too many variations in front of them and the average buyer will be like “Whu-?”

    Can you imagine going in Best Buy or Staples and having 100 Modular Microsoft OS products to pick from???

    Yeah…this is gonna happen…

  2. @Scott C. That only touches on one category of modules, applications/bundles. What about the module for dialup modems? I pray you don’t need that. What about the modules for IPSEC? You probably don’t need that either.

    There’s so much more to Windows than just the applications you probably don’t need. If you consider the price and performance incentive of running an operating system tailored to just what you need, you’ll end up better off.

  3. Although Vista is already modular with a lot of its components, I don’t think this patent would ever be used in a big way beyond just installation of components or applets with no dependencies like Solitaire.

    Immediately after I noticed the Telnet client was gone during the Vista beta, I made several harsh newsgroup points condemning the decision. Just having Telnet always installed and available to use is great when trying to determine connectivity problems on PCs “in the wild”. Admin rights to install these modular components or setting up applications really isn’t always possible and is time consuming. I don’t know how many times I’ve checked my e-mail from public PCs by just using Telnet. Now, I just keep putty on a USB key since Telnet will be thrown into obscurity as Vista is deployed.

    I can just imagine the user experience after purchasing a third-party piece of software, running through the installer and getting a prompt that you need x, y and z components and that Microsoft will happily download and install them for you for 20,000 Microsoft points. Developers are the life-blood of Windows; I don’t think they’d tolerate this in a big way.

    I’m sure everyone reading this blog hits Customize to every setup they encounter — with the Office one for example, do you think you need the equation editor? .NET programmability support in PowerPoint? Everyone just installs everything today, because you just don’t know what you’ll need. There’s no point in picking and choosing when the entire setup is being copied to disk anyway and there’s plenty of disk space to accommodate it all.

    I don’t think a modular design would ever really benefit the operating system, developers or revenues; they make too much money selling everything no matter if you use it or not. Although we’re used to per-use fees in other parts of the world, flat-rate and unlimited are what’s typical and expected in the U.S.

  4. Yes… and if you actually read my comment you’ll see I’m already aware of that. I just wanted it installed and accessible just like ipconfig, ping and tracert are. I don’t want to fight admin rights and I don’t want to sit for 10 minutes while Windows installs a 200k executable.

    The fact is the PM responsible grouped it with the Telnet server which I of course have no objection to not being installed by default given the security scope of Vista and the client got forgotten early in the game. But that’s really off topic and beside the point to the modular discussion.

  5. 2 ozzie

    I agree. I don’t know where Microsoft is going, but it’s definitely not where I want to go. Well, actually, I guess it’s not that hard to see where they are going: everything they do, everything they change seems to be about getting more money for less or equal products from their longtime customers. I’ve been a Microsoft ‘follower’ for years, but this year they’ve f**ked up too many times.

  6. I think the fundamental problem with Microsoft is that they have gone too far with their existing operating system. Just look at the install footprints for each version of each operating system.

    (Default Installs)
    Windows 98: 600 MEG
    Windows XP: 1.1 GIG
    and Windows Vista: 4 gig and above.

    The bigger they make operating systems more bulky and ridiculous the worser it always gets. Im not anti-Micro$oft. Im just anti-bigbulkyoperatingsystem. Sure its a good idea to allow people to have access to the entire operating system but we should GET A CHOICE as to what we install. You don’t always see Windows XP asking you what you want to install every time you format that IDE partition . You always get the default 1.1 gig unpatched piece of fugly operating system.

    If you want addons ‘Oh well you have to buy the Service Pack 2′ operating CD.
    That is if you want to have an install thats up to date and no bugs (something Micro$haft is very good at doing — making blue screens of death and like common.)

    I like programs like:
    http://www.litepc.com/
    http://www.nliteos.com/
    http://www.vlite.net/

    Because they cut down on:
    A: The security associated with the opposed default operating system.

    B: They get rid of the services that are not needed.

    C: I can slipstream Microsoft’s updates into my copy of Windows, something that MS would have you pay for. If it was a modular operating system.

    D: The default Micrsoft install is very bulky as it stands and has no install conformality when it comes to NOT installing your operating.

    E: They actually (and I kid you not) make your system run faster. The default microsoft installs in some cases have been known to use upwards of 256 megs of ram. For what? Just a bunch of extra services that you won’t be using anyway.

    The actual Windows-anything operating system should of been install customisable from the word go and not Pay for use content. Sure its great to have the ‘operating system’ that can do everything but I prefer my operating system to just be an operating system. I don’t want it to shave my poodle, make me a cup of coffee, be a scheduler, run my wife to work and mate with my labrador cross.

  7. The basic idea of charging for add ons is interesting, but with a bit of common sense we can figure out what a large portion of what they will consider add ons to be. Security updates and bug fixes. This is Microsoft after all, one of the greediest companies there is. It makes too much sense that they would charge for fixing everything they either screwed up, or didn’t think about being a problem.

  8. I think this is a complete nonsense for home users but for companies I think is a different matter. I can imagine scenarios where this scheme can be quite a success. A company with a large enough number of workstations can save a lot of money by not buying certain modules and by not paying one big sum of money for all the licenses but only a monthly fee.

  9. this is old news. this is the way UNIX and in other words linux is doing it! idiots. try this pantent in europe and we’ll laugh. and i mean ROFL!

  10. Maybe Im missing something here, but wouldn’t this patent just be related to Vista’s Home Basic, Home Premium & Ultimate packages?

  11. This is silly. “Today, an operating system has pretty much everything besides the kitchen sink”? Maybe true for Windows, certainly not for “an operating system” in general. “Although I wouldn’t be surprised if an obscure Linux distribution included that too”? Nah! You think?? See, I wouldn’t be surprised if Linux was like that too. As a matter of fact, isn’t Linux modular by design? And isn’t that the very reason why there are so many distributions out there? Hmmm… that’s an intriguing thought.

    Where the hell did you get the “obscure Linux distribution” bit? But wait a minute, aren’t ALL Linux distributions a bit obscure to you? Certainly looks like they are… If you want to be enlightened, please follow this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux

    I like to read your blog, but posts like this make me wonder if you have any clue at all on some (pretty common) topics.

    PS: Just in case this comment wasn’t clear: I’m being sarcastic. Any literate IT monkey knows (or should know) that this is exactly how Linux is architectured. If you didn’t see that coming in this patent, well… I think you are being dishonest, not idiot.

  12. @John: I thought “kitchen sink” was rather obvious sarcasm, but I guess not.

    To get to my point, you still get stacks, drivers, applications in operating systems that you don’t want or need.

    And I know this patent sounds like Linux, which is why I wrote the last sentence. But you don’t pay for Linux, and this has a pricing model. So it’s a little bit different.

  13. I just noticed the “Even if it does sound a little like Linux/Unix” at the end of the article :) Ah come on! You crack me up on that one, I’m really laughing hard. You even put it in italics, whatever that was for (emphasize it? shy away from it?)

    OK, let’s try and give you some credit. Please explain to ignorants such as myself how *anything* described and quoted by you here on this page differs from the Linux architecture? What makes this patent *different* from what Linux is?

  14. @John: You don’t pay for Linux.
    You (potentially) pay for this. This has authentication and the process of ‘purchasing’ the module.

  15. Oh OK. Good point: the pricing model. I missed that one. You are completely right. There *is* a difference. My sincere apologies.

    No, without sarcasm and most seriously. This is indeed true, Linux has no pricing model and is free. There’s the difference I was looking for. I got really puzzled for a while, but this is indeed a very good point. Everything is identical except the pricing model. Good innovation. Damn it! That dumb Linus, he should have thought of that! (And seriously, he should have, that was a bad move, he probably lost [as in "not earning"] millions on this)

  16. And BTW Long, me and you are stupid too. How come we didn’t think of that first? Why didn’t you or I (or us together) submit a document to the US patent office explaining exactly how Linux works, just adding the revolutionary idea of a pricing model to it? How dumb are we? I mean, this definitely sounds like something we could have pulled off. I guess there lies the true nature of genius: think of something simple that no one else figured before, and have them slap their forehead crying “damnit! why didn’t I think of that?”…

    I think we’re doomed to an average middle-class life for as long as we shall live. We simply don’t have what it takes to be on top of the food chain, better accept it :)

  17. Hmmm…. Who said that it would be M$ who would be providing all the modules? Can’t you imaging Microsoft providing a cheap (free?) kernel, and lots of third parties selling the add-on modules that we need?

  18. Hmmm. I see it like this. You’ll be paying “rent” for the sw you use and both it and your data is gonna be on their servers where they can change stuff without your knowledge or consent.

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