Why should Mac users pay for Windows?

Expensive (Image credit: Shutterstock)

I recently bought my first Mac. I know, I know – cover me in tar and slather me in magical, space grey feathers, but I simply couldn’t resist the 16in MacBook Pro with its awesome screen and speakers.

That said, I’m still a Windows boy at heart and, even though almost all the apps I use on a daily basis are available and almost identical on macOS, there are still a few Windows-only apps that I don’t want to forego. So, one of the first things I did with my new Mac was to install the Parallels Desktop 15, which allows you to run Windows apps on your Mac as if they were native Mac apps.

Unlike Apple’s Boot Camp, where you either boot into Windows or macOS, Parallels lets you run both Windows and Mac apps side by side. It is genuinely brilliant, even though it has followed that annoying trend of turning itself into a £70-per-year piece of subscription software, despite there being no good reason why it shouldn’t just be a one-off purchase.

But if you thought the cost of Parallels was stiff, that’s nothing compared to the price of the Windows 10 licence you need to run it. Most of us are now accustomed to thinking of Windows 10 as ‘free’, because of the way Microsoft offered free upgrades to anyone on Windows 7 and 8. But if you buy Windows 10 as a standalone operating system for a new computer you’ve built yourself or, in my case, so you can run Windows apps on your Mac, it’s a long, long way from free.

If you want to buy Windows 10 Home from the official Microsoft UK Store, that will set you back £120. If it’s the Pro version you’re after, it really is deep-breath time because it weighs in at a staggering £220. That’s about four or five times what Microsoft reportedly charges PC builders to install Windows 10 on their computers.

Having just performed open-wallet surgery to get the Mac in the first place, I was in no mood to shell out another few hundred quid, so I started looking around for cheaper alternatives. Type “Windows 10 product key” into Google (because a 16-digit key is all

you need, as Parallels has already downloaded and installed Windows 10), and you’ll find all kinds of shifty-looking sites offering Windows 10 Pro keys for as little as £20.

Now, I’ve been around the block a few times. I know full well that many of the codes you get from these sites will be invalid or blocked by Microsoft because the same codes have been sold hundreds of times over. But sorting the genuine code sellers from the conmen isn’t always easy. Even Amazon lists several sellers offering licence keys for as little as a tenner, which are surely too good to be true. Surely?

In the end, the cheapest legitimate way to get a product key was from Amazon – £100 for someone to send a boxed copy of Windows 10 on a USB stick, along with that all-important code. And I still had to wait a day or so for it to arrive in the post.

Only Microsoft could make it more than twice as expensive to send a 16-digit code via email than to have a box with an unwanted USB stick sent via snail mail.

Barry Collins

Barry Collins is an experienced IT journalist who specialises in Windows, Mac, broadband and more. He's a former editor of PC Pro magazine, and has contributed to many national newspapers, magazines and websites in a career that has spanned over 20 years. You may have seen Barry as a tech pundit on television and radio, including BBC Newsnight, the Chris Evans Show and ITN News at Ten.