back to article Microsoft mulls cheap PCs supported by ads, subs

In a world where global sales of PCs are declining and more work is shifting to the cloud, what can the maker of the world's ubiquitous operating system do to keep money coming in? For Microsoft, part of the answer might lie in low-cost, cloud-connected systems paid for through subscriptions and ads. We know, we know. A lot …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How is this any different from their current model?

    1. Martin 47

      It’s more honest

      1. Waseem Alkurdi

        Less dishonest*

    2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      A CS student's wet dream

      I can't image such a machine being anything but a giant root magnet. Who wouldn't want a cheap/free PC that could be made useful once cracked?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A CS student's wet dream

        If it could be reasonably cracked, that is. Looking at the state of iOS and console hacking, it looks like this is a thing of the past.

        1. logicalextreme

          Re: A CS student's wet dream

          It's easy to feel that way but this is MICROS~1 we're talking about. Don't underestimate their incompetence.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: A CS student's wet dream

            Absolutely, as far as the Windows part is considered. But if the security on it is designed by a team that worked on Xbox or Azure security, then we're screwed.

      2. BobChip

        Re: A CS student's - cracked - wet dream

        It WILL be hacked / cracked within days, and an attempt made to install a new, genuinely free (and advert-free) OS. You all know the one I mean. Watch El Reg to find out how to as soon as someone has worked it out. MS's only hope is to make it self destruct as soon as any significant changes to the OS are spotted, which ought to be simple enough when all the useful functionality will be in the cloud which MS will own and control. As other posters have said above, just more MS landfill...

        C'mon little mouse - there's some nice fresh cheese in the mousetrap. I promise it won't hurt ........ to start with.

        1. captain veg Silver badge

          Re: It WILL be hacked / cracked within days

          Well, that didn't happen with the first-generation Xbox, which was basically a stock PC running a modified Windows 2000.


    3. Snake Silver badge

      RE: current model, from a different light

      Is this proposal from MS really much different than Google's Chromebook model??

      1. logicalextreme

        Re: RE: current model, from a different light

        Of course it is. Cortana! A Registry! Updates that kill!

  2. Muscleguy

    So the poor get served ads for things they can’t afford while the rich get to opt out. Welcome to the 21st Century.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      The poor will get the appropriate suggestion to finance anything they want at fantastic prices and preferable conditions(*).

      (*) preferable conditions for the money supplier, of course

    2. Tim99 Silver badge

      Our new special offer

      Welcome to our new, improved, rentier capitalism - You pay even more to rent what you have "purchased"!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Our new special offer

        Pioneered by Oracle. Adopted by Adobe & others.

  3. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

    More landfill

    Cheap PCs subsidised by ads only work if you can only use them with the delivered software. So these machines will have to be Pluton'ed to the max to ensure only the Microsoft cloud client OS will run - no sneaky Linux install for you!

    So when the sub runs out, or they "expire', many will just get chucked out.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And good luck with that lockdown

      One of the main reasons ad supported PCs don't work, exactly as you say, is that if they don't suck people will strip them to remove the adware.

      Or they are terrible hardware, and are miserable and useless in all cases. Those have almost no useful service live and will form the geographic strata in the landfills over all the netbooks and then Chromebooks. All over the basement layer of the e-machines that should still be the cautionary tale here.

      This idea doesn't work. The math doesn't add up, and it won't. Because the company that makes the hardware can just sell the same machine sans crapware at a better price. There are also too many other stakeholders you have to deal with that will drain most of the profit off the top. Tech support costs eat up whatever's left, and how well are people going to treat these things. You wind up with nothing but a pile of toxic liabilities, including a literal hill of ewaste.

      The only people that are in a market position to do something like this are a company like Nvidia, and only by doing something like releasing a version of one of their new GPUs that forces adware for a year(Technically MORE adware, as their POS driver already has an ad sever built in). It would trash their brand even more though, and is still a terrible idea in the long run.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @AC - Re: And good luck with that lockdown

        It's a piece of cake for Microsoft. They solved this a long time ago by penalizing OEMs. If they sell their hardware without Windows, the Windows licenses become automatically more expensive. This is why even today you can't order a naked (with a blank disk drive) PC/laptop from any major OEM. They will rather charge you a Windows licence anyway so they can report a MS license sold and it's up to you the erase the pre-installed OS.

        1. stiine Silver badge

          Re: @AC - And good luck with that lockdown

          Dell currently sells pcs with Red Hat or Ubuntu installed, or no OS installed.

        2. Nelbert Noggins

          Re: @AC - And good luck with that lockdown

          If you look at the global support pages of the major OEMs you'll find they have non-windows SKU's

          Just because the US/UK/Western Europe accepts a market where a non-windows machine is limited or hard to buy, that isn't true everywhere. Your friendly search site and PC manufacture website doing their hardest to make sure you land on their local region helps with the charade.

          Off the top of my head, HP, Dell, Lenovo, not 100% about Acer + Asus all have SKUs with FreeDOS and Windows versions of the same hardware. This isn't 1 or 2 specific models, this is a wide range of their models. HP, for example, do this for all-in-ones, mini pcs, desktops and laptops including their Omen Gaming brand.

          The public voted with their wallet and the corporations sell what people will buy.

          The Western world has been a sucker for a long time, accepting what the corporations decide/steamroll/lobby and if no government/regulatory body stops it, the general public just pay the extra.

          This goes way back, not just in PCs either, while the music/video industry was demonising divx dvd players and mp3s in the western world, those same companies were shipping dvd players with divx support and even retailing mp3 filled CDs of their albums on shelf beside regular CD versions.

    2. Howard Sway Silver badge

      Re: More landfill

      This could be true if MS produced a well designed OS, rather than buggy, rushed out messes to try and capture markets first. If the OS receives regular updates, which it will have to because MS, the likelihood of brickage becomes very high. And the vulnerability that lets you install Linux only has to be discovered once.

      Chromebooks let you install either Linux extensions, or full Linux because Google realised that somebody was going to find a way sooner or later if they tried to defeat it. If the "cheap" adware PC is genuinely cheap, rather than just a bit cheaper than a standard laptop, this will happen quite quickly to the MS machine.

      Of course, they wouldn't have to try and prevent this if they genuinely believed that they were offering something better that nobody would want to replace.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Howard Sway - Re: More landfill

        This will be true irrespective of the quality of Microsoft Windows OS. History has shown us Windows users will take the abuse.

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: More landfill

      I read "cheap PC" not just to mean a low-end system, but anything that runs Windows without a business 365 subscription.

      1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

        Re: More landfill

        I suspect that adverts will appear on a scheduled basis - every ten minutes, for the sake of argument. Then, when they run out of adverts, it'll be "why not buy Microsoft 365?" or "have you considered the merits of 1TB in OneDrive?".

        A kind of "we've been trying to reach you about your car's extended warranty" for the Windows 11 age...

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. nematoad


    Also mentioned are direct-to-cloud devices.

    Ah, so the return of the dumb terminal?

    Ad interruptions when you are trying to get work done.

    Looks like fun.

  6. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    And in about 12 yrs


    "Be the master of your own data! New windows 25 , will store your data locally to ensure you have instant access to it when its needed regardless of your internet connection and cloud subscriptions.

    Dont rely on other people to store your data for you... store it locally and work on it locally.

    Followed a few years later with windows 33.1 with new local network abilities for when you need to talk to your colleagues...

    etc etc etc in an ever depressing cycle

    oh and I missed out the GUI changes in every version....

    1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

      Re: And in about 12 yrs

      And something like one version in three (or is that two?) being an even bigger steaming pile of faeces that anything before it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And in about 12 yrs

      More like Windows 12 build 35718.6167394_ww_release and Windows 12 build 57274.16828_za_release 35H2 Insider Build.

      Or whatever genius versioning scheme they end up following, now that their versioning postmodernism has killed any meaningfulness of the version and build numbers.

      1. MOH

        Re: And in about 12 yrs


        Did you miss the memo where Windows 10 is the end of versioning and everything thereafter wil just be continuous updates ...oh, wait

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Boris the Cockroach - Re: And in about 12 yrs

      Small correction here, New windows 25 will store __a copy of__ your data locally. Once you're in the cloud they will not let you go back.

  7. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    "the benefits of the cloud and Microsoft 365"

    Being what, exactly?

    1. Ian Mason

      > Being what exactly?

      About ten days a year off work during outages, if current trends continue!

      1. logicalextreme

        I vote we unionise and try to get them up to fifteen.

    2. logicalextreme

      Came here to say just that — 0 + 0 = 0.

      Or, as a DBA, NULL [operator] $anything =/is NULL.

      And if you're feeling particularly fruity; shit in, shit out.

  8. YetAnotherXyzzy

    I'm as appalled by everyone else by this idea, but it just might work, at least in selected markets. After all, it's the same idea behind crappy entry level Android phones subsidized by ad-slinging bloatware. They are lousy phones that give a lousy experience, yet at least where I live most buyers go for those.

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      Around the turn of the century, there were a few vendors doing this same thing - cheap PCs, subsidized by advertising on the desktop. It was a dismal failure then, and it'll be a dismal failure - one hopes! - this time round.

      Of course back then, as someone above alluded to, there wasn't the likes of Pluton and TPM and SecureBoot to ensure that the PC only booted what makes the vendor moneythe best, most exciting software optimized for the user with carefully selected premium offers...

      The icon is because I think I just threw up a little on my keyboard typing that last phrase.

    2. logicalextreme

      I'm as appalled by everyone else by this idea, but it just might work

      I'm expending remarkable effort to not actualise Godwin's law here…

      1. IanRS

        I just hope it is not exactly 1 million to 1.

  9. Joe Drunk

    Cheaper to buy refurbished kit

    and you get the same performance from mid-range used PCs versus brand new low-end. I suppose in some markets it may be difficult to find decent refurbs or just-off-lease but here they are plentiful.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cheaper to buy refurbished kit

      I live in a country where off-lease laptops aren't a thing because laptop leases aren't a thing anyway, and at the same time, laptops get used until they die (in order to save costs), so the secondhand market consists of used consumer-class laptops and grey-market imported business-class ones. And taxes are high, so importing is only an option for those who travel often or have connections to officers at customs.

      Bad times ahead.

    2. 43300 Silver badge

      Re: Cheaper to buy refurbished kit

      A three year old Latitude or THinkpad which has had light use will be a lot better than much of the brand new low-end crap around at the moment!

  10. fidodogbreath


    1. stiine Silver badge

      You didn't have to do that...

      1. logicalextreme

        "You finally really did it! You maniacs!"

  11. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge


    A couple of posts here refer to Terminals, rather than PCs.

    I think that we should return to the use of the word Terminal. It gives some kind of indication of the life of these devices.

  12. Ball boy Silver badge

    Hold on: 'low spec hardware'?

    Windows OS's can't run on low-spec hardware. For that, they'll need to use an OS that isn't bloated and runs well in limited resources.

    The irony: MS will wind up selling boxes that can only run *nix. Shame they'll be tightened up to /only/ run their modified *nix but even so.

  13. Blackjack Silver badge

    I am sure this was tried before and failed. Turns out that people willing to go for this are too poor to buy most of the stuff in the ads so it is basically pointless.

    1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

      This does not matter to ad slingers. Once an ad reaches an eyeball, their job is done. Does it matter that the ad was for a Bentley displayed to a part time fast food fry cook? Not one bit

  14. Sampler


    Wonder how these would fair against a pihole..yes Microsoft, I'll pay less for an ad supported version...

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: PiHole

      The advert server provides tokens to indicate the amount of advertising watched. Don't have a sufficient number of tokens? The machine stops doing useful things...

      ...would be an easy way to get around simply blocking the adverts elsewhere.

      My opinion on this is that it is an ever depressing part of the capitalist attempt to normalise constant in-half-face advertising. To hell with all of that shit.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: PiHole

        Even better, utilise the gaze-tracking feature they borrowed from phones in 2017:

        If the sensors don't record you actually watching the advert, then no token for you! Want to start a program? Watch this advert (we'll know if you look away) and answer a few simple questions about it before you proceed.

        The future sounds ghastly.

        1. Nelbert Noggins

          Re: PiHole

          Or they'll just continue the current trend of tracking endpoints and put the ad-slinging endpoints behind the same domain name as the necessary endpoints, so trying to block ads stops the OS working.

          MS aren't the only guilty party for this.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: PiHole

            That was when I stopped using TuCows. A while after that I saw the light and just stopped using Windows :-)

      2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: PiHole

        One wonders how easily that could be defeated by having the proxy on the Pi-Hole "watch" those ads for you, and forward on the tokens. To M$, the Pi-Hole pretends to be the machine, and to the machine, it pretends to be M$. Some trusting of certificates may be required on the machine...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: PiHole

      Use dictionary

      lookup fair

      lookup fare

  15. Jess--

    I suspect that their "direct to cloud devices" will simply run just enough to connect to a remote virtual machine (hosted somewhere on azure) with anything plugged into usb ports etc automatically passed through to the VM.

    of course with the need to run windows (or anything more than a VM client) the architecture of these devices wouldn't need to be x86 based or very powerful since all it's really doing is streaming video & audio.

    they will probably end up being something very like the Steam Link boxes (which from memory were Arm7 based)

    1. Blackjack Silver badge

      Yeah because people who are poor are also gonna pay to be online all the time. Great plan Microsoft, is not like let's say some places llike the USA have ridiculous internet prices or the internet speed varies depending in what place you are connecting or who your provider is, or people won't hack the things or if they are too underpowered and need to be online all the time, just buy a cheap PC or laptop instead.

  16. Andy Non Silver badge

    Hi There!

    Clippy here. It looks like you are trying to get your financial forecast spreadsheet done by the end of the day, but allow me to show you this new electric toothbrush, it not only cleans your teeth but you can use it to scratch your ears and remove unsightly nose hair for the low low price of £200. <clicks CANCEL>. Thank you for your order, it will be despatched within 24 hours. Have you also considered the latest Karcher electric kitchen mop...

    1. Evil Scot

      Re: Hi There!

      IRTA Electric kitten Mop.

  17. J. Cook Silver badge

    The non-singing part of me is just pointing out the Wheel of Reincarnation definition from the Jargon file:

    The Singing part of me is blasting "The Circle of Life" from The Lion King at full volume, though...

    The rest of me just wants a drink.

  18. Pirate Dave Silver badge

    Maybe my memories are foggy, but isn't this similar to what MS tried with eMachines and MSN/MSNBC back in the mid-to-late 90's? ISTR there was a substantial cost reduction or rebate on the purchase of a shitty eMachine desktop if the buyer signed up for an MSN subscription. That didn't work out too well long term (or did it?) But the future is just the past in reverse, so let's try it again.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Exactly that. Wasn't around back then to witness the carnage firsthand, but LGR on YouTube did some excellent coverage of both recently.

      Those who don't understand history are doomed to repeat it, etc etc.

    2. Ghostman

      The same thing was done with AOL subscriptions. I kept pointing out to customers the difference between the "free" machines and ones that could be upgraded (Ram, CPU, hard drive, etc). Also, you paid more for the AOL in the subscription mode that if you signed up using the thousands of AOL disks you got each year in the mail and magazines (you got one every week in the Sunday newspaper). At the end of the subscription you had paid enough to buy a better computer and monitor and still get on AOL.

      Note: On the "free" computers, RAM, CPU, and almost everything else was soldered onto the motherboard. No upgrades, no repair if something went wrong.

  19. 43300 Silver badge

    Amazon have been doing this with Kindles for years.

    I make them last a long time, but when i've bought one have always paid the extra for the no-adverts version.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Amazon doesn't make profits on hardware Kindle sales to begin with - the real earner is the ebook side of the business.

      Also, I've anecdotally heard that Amazon customer support will remove the Special Offers on a Kindle if it's your first one. Haven't verified it personally, but might be worth the $20 in savings. If not, just use it without Wi-Fi.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re. amazon kindle

      well, one option to lower the cost is buy decent 2nd hand one (or whatever they call 2nd hand these days). I got one for something like 30 usd a few years back, and though I hate amazon for many reasons, I never had to go through steps to set it up with mandatory amazon account and it ticked happily for a few years, until I misplaced it. I was about to splash out on 100usd / gbp / eur kindle kids variant (forgot what it's called, but with larger screen, etc.), but then I found my old, long-dead kobo glow, I recharged and... it works. Yes, looks terrible, with 'screen holes' and physical buttons half-gone (don't know how this happened!), but those buttons just remind me about why I hated kidle so much in the first place.

  20. x 7

    Time for the cheap s*** to be cleared out

    reminds me of that episode where Time Computers offered a free PC to anyone who took out a two-year subscription to Supanet, their in-house ISP.

    In fact it was an attempt to get rid of their unsellable stocks of IBM / Cyrix 333 processors - remember those? The ones which actually ran a lot slower with funny jumper multipliers which made them overheat and crash.

    Turned into a money black hole as they all had to be replaced by setups using AMD 475 processors and new motherboards

  21. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge


    What do you mean by "subs"? Subtitles? Sandwiches?

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Subs?

      For most people, they would read it as "subscriptions". YMMV, though and if YKINMK, it might mean the opposite of doms to you.

      1. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

        Re: Subs?

        In the U.S. subs usually refers to substitutes.

  22. Just A Quick Comment

    No, just no...

    Do I want Windows 11? No thank you.

    Do I want Windows with adverts? Really NO and NO!

    Windows 10 may not be perfect, but it's become (almost by default) a mature and stable OS*.

    I'd really like a decent Linux (such as Mint) to become more of a competitor, but (for me) this won't happen until the basic user unfriendliness of the printing system / options is sorted out - but that's probably just me!

    *Yes, ok, I know stability is a relative, even a subjective, term, but my Win 10 is behaving itself...

    1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

      Re: No, just no...

      I wish mine was. Left it turned off for 6 months because I mainly use it for taxes, and now it doesn't want to boot up. And guess who forgot to make a recovery disk?

  23. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    What's on the local TV station?

    Nobody knows because the commercials are intolerable.

  24. Binraider Silver badge

    Sounds a lot like a, err, Chromebook? Only worse.

    1. Col_Panek

      I love my Chromebook. It runs Linux Mint.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "newly formed Windows Incubation team"

    Alien, Spawn, the Thing, IT, please welcome the latest team member... INCUBATIONNNNNNNN!!!!!

  26. Robert Grant

    This explains why systemd is getting an ad server

    Don't worry though. It's TPM2-compatible!

  27. Ganso

    The dystopia progresses...

    For the love of God people, just install Linux, it can even be Ubuntu!

  28. AVR


    Flooding the PC with ads is likely to degrade its performance. Then there's the fact Windows is a performance hog anyway. If you tried running this OS and software on a low-end machine it'd probably freeze up almost immediately. If you put it on a mid-range PC it's going to perform like a low-end machine at best. MS would have to pay the hardware vendors to get them to sell it at a price point where people might buy it, and possibly pay them quite a lot.

    It seems like a risky venture.

  29. jollyboyspecial

    Every time somebody suggests any service or product could be ad supported (either in terms of discount or being absolutely free) there are always people who say it will never work or that people will never put up with it. Except of course the available evidence proves otherwise.

    While there are people who wouldn't put up with it there are others who will. I remember when ads started on youtube, so many people predicted that the service would be consigned to the history books within weeks. Not only did it not happened, but the incidence of advertising on youtube is getting higher and higher. Of course you can pay to get rid of the ads but very few people do. The same applies to many apps and services. Sure you can pay to make the ads go away, but who does?

    Most social media is littered with ads and people put up with it.

    And of course TV in most territories has always been ad supported. Even in the UK when people were used to ad free TV there were plenty of people who said that "commercial" TV would never catch on, but it did.

    Yes there are plenty of people who would balk at the idea of an ad supported PC, but if the discount is big enough I'm sure there will be plenty of takers.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      The fact that YT is forcing more and more ads into videos, and most people's response is "FUCK OFF ADS" might kind-of indicate that this model isn't as successful as they would like you to think. Those buying the ad space might start to ask whether pissing people off too much might tarnish their brand, rather than promote it.

      1. jollyboyspecial

        Except of course that the evidence of a long history of ad supported services would tend to disagree with that.

        Advertising works. I'm not sure why this is the case. Advertising has seldom had any effect on me. If I want to buy something I go and look for it.

        A lot of people dislike advertisements but put up with them. There are a three main reasons for this. Firstly because often there is no alternative. Secondly people will tolerate ads if the alternative is to pay to make them go away. And finally people become desensitised to advertising. The latter seems to be what has happened with YT. When ads first arrived on the platform people would do everything they could (except pay money) to avoid them, but most folks seem desensitized now.

        Lets see what the uptake is for the ad supported version of Netflix. When it was first announced most people who commented said it would never fly. It will be interesting to see if those predictions were correct.

  30. spold Silver badge


    The Sinclair OPD (One Per Desk/One Per Dustbin) lives.

    It Can't Last.

    Windows by Ted Moult.

  31. dipole

    Adblock is running on my chromebook and I prefer it to my much more expensive Windows laptop. I only started my Windows laptop yesterday after months for a Windows only app. I needed to use.

    Adblock probably won't give you undisturbed browsing pleasure on this Windows device.

    This device may spur people in to cloud based solutions but they probably won't be Office365 based.

  32. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    I wonder

    How well would one of these work behind a pi-hole?

  33. Medixstiff

    Is it any wonder that PC sales are slowing, since multi core CPU's and SSD's came out, the refresh cycle for home users in particular is non existent.

    We are well and truly past the bad old software bloat days of the Pentium era in the late 90's early 2000's.

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