Could Microsoft Eventually Offer Windows 8.1 For Free?

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s more than one way to monetize your company’s products, especially when your product portfolio is as vast as Microsoft’s. To that end, Microsoft is reportedly experimenting with different ways to make money from its products and services that include offering its flagship operating system for free.

This would be a stark departure from the norm for Microsoft, which has always charged for OS licenses, whether the cost is boxed software or wrapped up in a PC purchase. Of course, nothing is really free, so the tradeoff would ostensibly be some sort of Bing-related incentivisation. ZDNet and The Verge both reported that a “Windows 8.1 with Bing” SKU of the upcoming Windows 8.1 update may be a harbinger of this sort of deal.

Windows 8.1 with Bing
Windows 8.1 with Bing (Credit: via ZDNet)

Windows 8.1 with Bing could be a free (or very deeply discounted) version of Windows 8.1 designed to tempt users to upgrade.

Microsoft is walking a fine line here. On the one hand, the company desperately needs to get more people plugged into the new Microsoft ecosystem of Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone, and offering serious value-adds such as access to OneDrive storage, Skype usage, and sure, a free OS, are good ways to do that. (Further, Windows RT ships with a free Office suite, which is the premiere feature of that platform in my opinion.)

Windows 8.1

On the other hand, Microsoft would be sacrificing revenue for market share. The company is facing competition on multiple fronts, including declining PC sales as more people scoop up tablets and inexpensive chromebooks, so it appears that the company is betting on market share to save the day.