Microsoft announces free Windows, Siri rival at dev summit

Redmond finally embraces mobile-first strategy

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Microsoft announces free Windows, Siri rival at dev summit Nadella: We are going to innovate in every dimension. (Getty Images)
By  Stephen McBride Published  April 3, 2014

Microsoft Corp has announced aggressive moves to compete in the mobile space, including licensing Windows for free on some consumer devices and developing a voice assistant similar to Apple’s Siri, Reuters reported.

At the company’s annual developers’ conference in San Francisco, Microsoft executives, including newly minted CEO Satya Nadella, set out Microsoft’s strategy for clawing greater share of the mobile computing market.

While a paid licence fee will still apply to business devices, Windows will be free for consumer phones and tablets with screen sizes under nine inches.

Microsoft also announced a voice-activated phone assistant called Cortana, which will compete with Apple's Siri. The tool will allow users to verbally command a number of functions, including search the Web, set reminders and make calls. While still in beta, Cortana will soon be standard on Windows phones, according to Joe Belfiore, the Windows Phone executive who demonstrated the app.

Microsoft’s success in last-generation computing was built around its goal of putting a Windows-based computer on every desk and in every home. Each machine that ran Windows would net Microsoft revenue. But Microsoft, much to the dismay of investors, applied the same model to Windows Phone, charging hardware partners between $5 and $15 per device, an approach that has failed to lead to market traction in the midst of Google’s runaway success with its Android OS.

Critics say Microsoft’s strategy has led to more expensive phones and a stunted user base, meaning Microsoft cannot make money from services like Skype and Office.

Last week Microsoft made its first moves to align itself with the mobile age by announcing a version of Office for Apple’s iPad. Analysts immediately applauded the move as a means to bring in over $1bn per year in extra subscription revenue.

"We are going to innovate with a challenger mindset," said Nadella in a question-and-answer session at the developer conference. "We are not coming at this as some incumbent trying to do the next version of Windows; we are going to come at this by innovating in every dimension."

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