Picture the scene. October 2012, Moon Station 1: Steve Ballmer invites President Bill Gates on stage to launch Microsoft's next-gen desktop and mobile OS: Windows 8 - available to loyalty card customers for just 1p.
Far-fetched? Yes. Possible? Certainly. (Apart from the President bit: Gates likes actual power too much.)
Eidos recently did a clever, thing. The games developer offered up the latest iteration of its flagship football management sim - Championship Manager 2010 - for as little as 1p. After paying a data fee for the download, the punter can pick his price (I'm not being sexist: it almost always is a he).
See also: Microsoft Windows 8 review
This is exciting if you're looking to waste time while eating junk food. It's also indicative of the changing face of the software industry. And the big winners are set to be you and me, dear reader.
First, some history. Championship Manager once was the dominant market leader, loved by millions of aspiring gaffers, detested by their spouses. Then a bunch of developers jumped ship to rival Football Manager, and Eidos spent several years shedding market share, crying all the way home from the bank.
By delivering the game as a download, Eidos incurs none of the costs associated with burning discs, printing artwork and shipping. If you pay only a penny, Eidos adds 1p to its bottom line. Software is, after all, just code, and ESD (electronic software distribution) changes the game. If you're at all interested in football games, you've no excuse not to buy. You've certainly got no excuse to download a dodgy licence.
That's why there are so many 'special offers' and multiple licence deals for Windows 7. Microsoft may not yet be prepared to drop the top-line price, but like a bottle of wine that's permanently on offer, it's happy to take a hit on profits to sell more. (Given that in a better world Win7 would be Vista called SP2, this is only fair.) Shop around for Windows 7.
Right now, Microsoft's nervous about selling an operating system as a download: an insider told me recently that she didn't think people would have the patience. The fact that 4 percent of PC Advisor readers are ALREADY using Windows 7 RC - available only as a download - should change its mind. Eventually. Mark my words.
Once you've built and sold a single software licence, selling the second one is, in essence, free. Market forces dictate downward pressure on prices. And as the cost of delivery drops, aggressive pricing and ESD help to combat piracy, too.
We may not see a 1p OS as soon as 2012, but the cost of keeping up with the Ballmers is going in only one direction - the right one.