Your Favorite Free Product Is Now Paid? Tough

By John C. Dvorak Features PCmag

Silicon Valley works well with false promises. But what happens when those false promises cover free products that eventually require payment? In other words, who gets hurt?

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You might recall that in 2014, Microsoft announced unlimited cloud storage for Office 365 and OneDrive for Business subscribers. The following year, however, Redmond restricted that free storage to 1TB for Office 365 users, while free OneDrive storage decreased from 15GB to 5GB.

How could a company like Microsoft not foresee the obvious? Don't worry, it did. The whole thing was a publicity stunt.

You could complain about it as bait-and-switch, but it cost you nothing. It was something free that you did not get. And since Microsoft's end-user license agreement says it can change the terms of the deal whenever it wants, there's probably not much a regulatory agency like the FTC could do.

Plenty of internet services go from free to paid. For example, I used a great name and address database system in the late 1990s that would sync with everything in the world. The promise was that it would be free forever, but I had to start paying for it after a year.

But Microsoft is at it again, preparing to shut down a translator app for anything before Windows 10 and Windows Phone 7.1 and 8, a peculiar move. Obsolescence used to stem from hardware incompatibility; now it's software.

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This software problem sneaks back into hardware in all sorts of ways. Take for example High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection or HDCP. Intel invented this fiasco to copy-protect hi-def audio and video streams on expensive TVs. The protocol was cracked by hackers and thus rendered useless.

This happens over and over, rendering an increasing number of TV sets useless. This is especially problematic for 4K as your set needs to be HDCP 2.2 compliant (at the moment) when all the early 4K sets (only two years old) were HDCP 1.4 compliant.

Again, like the free software promises, who can you sue? Nobody. Instead, the companies hope you'll just suck it up and fork over some cash.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.