On Friday Microsoft announced that it was going to give away for free yet another version of Windows.
Microsoft is calling it Windows 8.1 with Bing, even though it won’t force people to use Bing if they really want to use another search engine.
The free version of Windows will be available to hardware makers who are building low-cost devices with only 1GB of memory and 16GB of storage. Some of these devices, if they are tablets, might also include Microsoft Office.
Windows 8.1 with Bing use Internet Explorer and Microsoft’s Bing search engine by default, just like all the other Windows 8 devices.
But Microsoft promises that people can switch search engines. “Customers will be able to change that setting through the Internet Explorer menu, providing them with control over search engine settings,” Windows spokesperson Brandon LeBlanc wrote in a blog post.
Some of these new devices will be announced in the coming weeks, leading to Computex in Taipei, a big conference for the PC industry.
This is the second version of Windows that Microsoft is offering for free. At its Build developers conference in March, the company announced that it would be giving away Windows for phones and tablets smaller than 9 inches in screen size.
Giving Windows away for free is a major shift for Microsoft, which makes over $US4 billion a quarter licensing Windows revenue.
But device makers now have another choice, namely Chrome OS for laptops and Android for tablets, which Google gives away for free. (Ironically, Microsoft has gotten many of them to sign patent licence agreements covering Chrome, so some device makers actually pay Microsoft when they use Chrome.)
In April, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that the company would be willing to give away more versions of its operating system for free, or at different price points, as it expands Windows into new markets, like Windows for Wearables (which he said the company is working on).
To help Windows 8 become more popular, Microsoft is returning to the tried-and-true strategy of “it’s hard to compete with free.”
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