Tom Warren of The Verge has a fascinating scoop: Microsoft is experimenting with a version of Windows 8.1, bundled with various Microsoft services, which it would call “Windows 8.1 with Bing” and offer for little or no money:
We’re told that Microsoft is aiming to position Windows 8.1 with Bing as a free or low-cost upgrade for Windows 7 users. Any upgrade offers will be focused on boosting the number of people using Windows 8.1. This Bing-powered version of Windows 8.1 may also be offered to PC makers as part of recent license cuts for devices under $250. It’s not clear how committed Microsoft is to these plans, but the experiment is part of a number of initiatives designed to push and monetize Microsoft’s cloud services and apps. Microsoft is increasingly betting on Bing as a platform it can monetize in the future. Microsoft is also considering low-cost or free versions of Windows Phone, and the company is working towards merging its Windows RT and Windows Phone software into a single version designed for ARM-based chipsets.
It’s hard to ponder this news without thinking of the fact that web-centric laptops based on Google’s Chromebook platform often sell for about $200-$250, while it’s tough to find much in the way of Windows notebooks for less than around $300-$350. The license fee for Windows accounts for a fair chunk of that difference; Chromebooks, by contrast, are as cheap as they are in part because Google doesn’t charge for Chrome OS. Which it can do because of all the ad-subsidized Google services Chromebook owners use.
So a bargain-basement version of Windows tied into Microsoft services with a price point of $250 or less sounds like an answer to Chromebooks. And even more than Microsoft’s “Scroogled” campaign against Chromebooks, that suggests that Microsoft is concerned about cheap Chromebooks chipping away at the market for not-quite-as-cheap Windows laptops.