Microsoft is reportedly looking at a new way to get people to upgrade to its latest operating system: offer it for free or close to free. According to The Verge, Microsoft is toying with the idea of releasing “Windows 8.1 with Bing,” a version of the company’s flagship operating system that’s tightly bundled with Bing search and other services.
The idea would be to remove the price barrier in hopes of not only getting more people to use Microsoft’s latest software — but also to get people used to using the Bing ecosystem which includes search, maps, news, and much more.
Update: It turns out Windows 8.1 with Bing is a cheap version of Windows that will be available to device makers offering PCs for under $250. It’s basically Windows… but PC makers agree not to change the default search engine in Internet Explorer from Bing, and for that they get a discount. The software is only available to device makers, not end users.
During the 90s, it wasn’t so hard to get people to upgrade to a new version of Windows. Microsoft released updates every few years and they were typically demonstrably better than the prior version.
By the time Windows XP rolled around, the landscape was a bit different. Computers running XP had a habit of not crashing at least a few times a day, and Microsoft took more than 5 years to get around to releasing its successor, Windows Vista… which was not particularly well received.
So more than a decade after its launch, there are still plenty of people running Windows XP. Windows 7, meanwhile, was actually a pretty solid update and there are also plenty of folks who don’t feel the need to upgrade — especially given that many are unhappy about some of the changes Microsoft made starting with Windows 8, including the new Start Screen and touch-friendly user interface that you have to occasionally interact with whether you’re using a touchscreen device or not.
At a time when traditional PC sales are stagnant and smartphone and tablet sales are skyrocketing, it’s not surprising that Microsoft saw the need for a tablet-optimized operating system. What’s been a tough sell is the company’s decision to bundle it into the same OS as its laptop and desktop software.
Anyway, it’s not clear if giving away Windows 8.1 will do much to change things — but you can already pick up a Windows 8.1 device like the Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet for extraordinarily low prices. By offering even cheaper options to users and device makers alike, it’s possible that Microsoft could make products running Windows very low-cost Android devices. Many Windows tablets and notebooks are already cheaper than Apple iPads.