Microsoft will reportedly cut Windows license fees to encourage production of sub-$250 Windows 8 devices, including non-touch PCs.
If anything has encouraged Windows 8 device sales, it's been lower prices. So Microsoft and its partners might be about to sell a lot of new PCs and tablets: Microsoft is slashing the cost of Windows 8.1 licenses for OEMs by 70%, according to a Bloomberg report published Friday evening. Citing people familiar with the company's plans, the article states manufacturers will pay only $15 to license the OS -- but only for devices that will retail for less than $250. The program reportedly aims to combat Chromebooks, which have eaten into Windows sales at the low end of the market.
In response to an inquiry about the report, a Microsoft spokesperson told InformationWeek, "We have nothing to share."
Many Windows 8.1 devices could soon sell for less than $250.
Microsoft announced strong quarterly results in January. As has been the case for much of the last year, however, Windows figures were tinged with troubling signs, including a 3% year-over-year revenue drop. That mark was good enough to beat 2013's historic 10% decline in PC shipments but it was also inflated by a 12% boost in revenue from the professional-oriented Windows OEM Pro -- and masked how much the consumer PC market has unraveled.
Chromebooks now come in a variety of form factors, such as LG's Chromebase, an all-in-one desktop.
Also noteworthy: Whereas Microsoft allegedly cut license costs last year to promote tablet growth, the new program reportedly applies to any device under $250 -- including PCs and laptops without touchscreens.
As such, the reduced license fees tie neatly into recent reports that Microsoft wants to re-engage its longtime PC users, many of whom grew disenchanted with Windows 8's more radical UI departures from previous versions. Microsoft's efforts are expected to include an update to Windows 8.1 that could arrive by April and make the touch-oriented OS more palatable to mouse-and-keyboard users.
With various leaked builds circulating online, the update appears imminent. It includes more refined integration between the Modern and desktop interfaces, including Live Tiles that respond better to mouse commands, and the ability to pin Windows Store apps to the desktop's taskbar. The update will also allegedly recognize the type of hardware on which it is installed and adjust accordingly; it is expected to boot to the desktop by default on non-touch hardware, for example, and to continue booting to the Modern UI on touch-equipped devices.
Forrester analyst David Johnson told us last week that the update sounds promising. "They have two operating regimes," he said, "and they are learning that it's not a good strategy to sacrifice one to make the other better."
Still, the upcoming update is not expected to reintegrate Windows 7's Start Menu, the absence of which has upset some users. According to various reports, the Start Menu, as well as the ability to run Modern apps in windows on the desktop, will debut in Windows 9 in 2015.
Will users wait until 2015 for a feature that's been in other Windows versions for years? Johnson said Microsoft might be moving slowly and deliberately in order to avoid the perception it has made a mistake. "If they try to move too quickly, it could undermine confidence in the Modern UI, which they need to be committed to," he said.
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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio
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