Updated (11th December 14:15 GMT): Additional information from Microsoft's formal announcement added.
Global computing giant Microsoft has added bitcoin as a payment option for a variety of digital content across its online platforms.
According to the company’s payments information page, US-based customers can now use bitcoin to add money to their accounts, which can then be used to purchase content like apps, games and videos from its Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox platforms.
The surprise announcement, which is the result of an integration with Georgia-based bitcoin processor BitPay, adds yet another major tech player to the bitcoin ecosystem – Microsoft boasts a market cap of more than $380bn and annual revenue in excess of $86.8bn in 2014.
Eric Lockard, corporate vice president of Universal Store at Microsoft, later addressed the news in a full blog post that sought to convey to a general audience why it believes the move could be part of a long-term strategy that finds it embracing digital currency.
"The use of digital currencies such as bitcoin, while not yet mainstream, is growing beyond the early enthusiasts. We expect this growth to continue and allowing people to use bitcoin to purchase our products and services now allows us to be at the front edge of that trend.”
The integration is only partial, however. Microsoft said it will not accept the digital currency as a direct payment method, though a broader integration could take place in the future.
"You can only use bitcoin to add money to your Microsoft account and then purchase digital goods at select Microsoft online stores. You can’t use bitcoin to purchase Microsoft products and services directly at this time."
The page also contains instructions for adding bitcoin to user accounts, including steps for desktop and mobile users. Microsoft outlines consumer considerations for using bitcoin as a payment method, noting the irreversibility of transactions.
The page goes on to explain that customers who add money to their accounts using bitcoin will not be eligible for refunds after transactions are conducted. Customers who believe they have sent an erroneous transaction are encouraged to reach out to the company.
Customers can add up to $1,000 to their Microsoft in a single day, with a $5,000 maximum in place for each account registered by a given individual.
Microsoft builds ties to bitcoin
Microsoft's integration follows a slow but notable progression of events that suggested it would potentially seek to embrace bitcoin.
In February, Microsoft launched an update to its Bing search engine that allowed users to generate bitcoin price conversions. At the time, co-founder and current technology advisor Bill Gates remarked in a Reddit Ask Me Anything that his nonprofit organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was interested in digital payments technology in general.
Gates later commented on bitcoin during an October appearance on Bloomberg’s “Street Smart” segment, where he voiced support for the idea of digital money and said that bitcoin was an "exciting”, though perhaps problematic, solution to ongoing financial pain points.
CoinDesk has reached out to Microsoft for comment and will update this article with more information as the story develops.
Additional reporting provided by Pete Rizzo.
Disclaimer: CoinDesk founder Shakil Khan is an investor in BitPay.
Image via Microsoft