Microsoft has been working aggressively to get its software onto low-cost tablets. Earlier this year the company announced that device makers could load Windows 8.1 software on tablets or phones with 9 inch or smaller screens without paying a license fee.

Now it looks like Windows might also be free for use on tablets with larger screens — as long as they sell for around $250 or less.


According to reports out of China, Microsoft is extending its free Windows deal to at least a few white box tablet manufacturers. That could help explain the existence of tablets like the Onda V975w which sells for about $250 and features a 9.7 inch, 2048 x 1536 pixel display, an intel Atom Z3735D Bay Trail processor, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage.

Note that Microsoft hasn’t confirmed that it’s expanding the extent of its free Windows licensing.

Up until recently these companies had primarily been cranking out Android tablets. But with Intel working to bring down the cost of x86 processors and Microsoft making Windows price competitive with Android, we’ve seen a growing number of cheap Windows tablets hit China recent months.

As Mike Cane points out, this helps explain how companies including Teclast and Onda have been able to introduce dirt cheap tablets with 9.7 inch screens — they’re not paying for Windows licenses.

While the move could help Microsoft gain a foothold in the tablet space, it remains to be seen what kind of long-term impact the free Windows deal would have. If and when Windows becomes a major player in the space, the company could start charging license fees for software… and device makers will have little choice but to pay up (and possibly increase the retail prices of their tablets) if there’s proven consumer demand.

Alternately if the only thing that draws shoppers to low-cost Windows tablets is the low cost, the move could hurt Microsoft’s bottom line unless the company takes a page out of Google’s book and transitions from a business that makes its money selling software like Windows and Office to one that makes money through advertising and subscription services.

via 1Pad and Digitimes (I know, I know…)

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8 replies on “Reports: Microsoft Windows now free for all $250 or cheaper tablets”

  1. perhaps the new CEO could start personally calling all previous registered users:

    “Good evening. I see you are using Android on your tablet. What if I was to send you a copy of Windows to install of your tablet? Would that be OK? Great I’m sending that to you today.”

    Next MS annoucement: “Microsoft ships 1 billion copies of Win 8.1”

    Bit like Corel did with the give aways of WordPerfect CDs (that mostly became coasters).

  2. So now Microsoft wants to be known as the operating system of choice for cheap, poorly built, poorly functioning tablets? This appears like a desperate attempt to remain relevant.

    Android, back before (and even during) most of the Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich releases was famous for crap tablets from any number of Chinese manufacturers touting iPad-killing specs. Then Google raised the bar with their Nexus 7 and Samsung pushed out solid offerings building on their Galaxy phone base. So now, is it Microsoft’s position that the only place to remain in business is at the very low end (with Google/Samsung in the mid-range, and Apple at the top)? I suppose they’ve tried vertical integration by making their own devices, so they just have to give it away.

    If you can’t beat them, and don’t want to join them, then you’ve got to just copy them. Which to be fair, is pretty much what MS has been doing from the start.

  3. What are the chances that Microsoft would re-establish the fees if/when Windows 8 gains more tablet share? I would think that would backfire and we’d see manufacturers move to Android and not looking back at Microsoft ever again. I don’t see the fee coming back unless it’s stated as part of their agreement with Microsoft that the fees will come back in the future.

    If more Windows 8 tablets are sold Microsoft will probably start making a lot more money off of the Windows Store (and advertising and services) than they would have from just a license fee.

    1. Agreed, they’ve been steadily moving towards a more Google like services orientated business model…

    2. See netbooks for how this story plays out. Or at least how Microsoft hopes it plays out.

      They gave away XP licenses with few demands until the Linux competition was destroyed, Then they slowly withdrew the subsidies and XP and watched the whole netbook sector vanish. No vendor returned to Linux and with netbooks wholly inadaquate to Win7 they just vanished into thin air. Besides, cheap was one of the key goals and once you put in a hard drive, 2GB of ram, bigger screen, etc. to run Windows it wasn’t cheap or light or netcentric anymore. Then jack the price to cover a Windows license or gimp it with Starter Edition and the game was over. Tablet madness was hastened by the disappearance of the netbook; customers who wanted the appliance like nature of a netbook found a ready replacement in the tablet.

      They hope they can make Android vanish the same way, then gimp the free editions until they also go away. Then it is monopoly time again except for Apple, who will have long since returned to their 10% niche of price no object customers and Apple fanboys; if Apple is lucky.

      It remains to be seen if Google, Samsung, etc. are so dumb as to allow it.

  4. I’m holding out for the day when they start to pay me to use Win8.x. For enough money I might have to consider it.

    1. Yes, free is far too high a price for an OS that can’t even defend itself against viruses, that uses huge amounts of data budget every month to keep itself updated and, for non-savvy users, it launches a denial-of-service attack on itself each time it decides to do an update.

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