Microsoft is reportedly preparing a "Windows 8.1 with Bing" version of its desktop OS that would supposedly be offered free of licensing fees, as the company experiments with different monetization options and weighs the value of dropping Windows and Windows Phone licensing or purchase costs altogether. The project, said to be not yet finalized with Microsoft execs still unclear on whether it will see the light of day, comes as Microsoft targets sub-$250 PCs to better challenge Google Chromebooks and other low-cost options.
Currently, a fifth of the sticker price of a $250 Windows 8 PC goes on licensing fees for the OS itself. Rumors earlier this month indicated that Microsoft was weighing the possibility of cutting that from $50 to just $15, making building ultra-affordable computers more appealing to manufacturers.
This latest chatter of a special "Windows 8.1 with Bing" build could well fit in with that strategy, and maybe be even more affordable. According to ZDNet's sources, the new strand may in fact be more of a placeholder in the OS range at present, for a low-cost or free version that leverages Bing services to offset the absence of an initial licensing fee.
The likelihood is that both Microsoft's individual consumers and its OEM customers will be able to take advantage, The Verge's sources say, with one particular target group being encouraging Windows 7 users to upgrade. That would bolster the number of overall Windows 8.1 installs, which have lagged in pace compared to its predecessor.
Uncertain at this point is how "Windows 8.1 with Bing" might differ from the existing Windows 8.1, the upgrade which will arrive this spring. Right now, Bing services such as search and OneDrive are already integrated, and analysis of leaked versions of what's said to be the "with Bing" iteration show no significant differences.
The desktop isn't the only place Microsoft is said to be considering doing away with licensing fees, however. Windows Phone could also see considerable cuts, according to chatter over the past months, as Microsoft tries to flesh out the entry- and mid-range with new devices.