Windows 8.1 May Become A Freebie OS

Microsoft is reportedly building a variation of Windows dubbed “Windows 8.1 with Bing.” It’s apparently part of an experiment to offer the operating system with tighter integration to featured Microsoft apps and services—primarily, at least at first, Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Windows Bing may also be part of a plan to boost adoption by giving away the OS for free or at a reduced cost to both individual users interested in upgrading their Windows 7 machines and PC makers. The Verge reported Friday that Microsoft might give away a consumer version of Windows Bing for free.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that Microsoft is cutting Windows 8.1 licensing fees by 70% for installations on low-cost computers of $250 or less. In that scenario, original equipment manufacturers currently charged $50 would only have to pay $15. It’s not clear how (or if) the two approaches would work alongside each other. 

Publicly, Microsoft loves to wax poetic about Windows 8, whose sales have surpassed 200 million licenses. But according to NetMarketShare, Windows 8 ranked third worldwide among desktop operating systems in February, behind Windows 7 and Windows XP. (Windows 8.1 comes in at #4; combined, Windows 8 and 8.1 are still third behind XP.)

Microsoft certainly appears eager to push its cloud services and apps to combat Google, whose Chromebook and Android initiatives are chipping away at Microsoft’s business on both desktops and smartphones. Several reports have suggested that the company is mulling over free or low-cost variations of Windows Phone as well, plus a possible software mash-up of Windows Phone with its hybrid desktop/tablet OS, Windows RT.

I reached out to Microsoft’s PR team, and will update this item if and when I hear back. (Update: A Microsoft spokesperson has responded and, predictably, has “nothing to share.”) 

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