Microsoft Offering Tablet Makers 'Free' Windows 8.1 With Bing

Taking a page out of the Google playbook, Microsoft lures OEMs with a free version of Windows that defaults to the Bing search engine, helping them build lower-cost Windows devices.

Android is essentially free for device makers that want to build products based on Google's mobile operating system. Incidentally, Android is tightly integrated with several major Google services, including Gmail, Maps and, of course, Google Search.

Now, Microsoft is following suit.

After months of rumors, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant officially took the wraps off Windows 8.1 with Bing. The zero-cost licensing program is Microsoft's way of helping the company's "hardware partners build lower cost Windows devices," according to spokesperson Brandon LeBlanc.

"As we move forward, many of these lower cost devices will come with a new edition of Windows called Windows 8.1 with Bing," said LeBlanc in a company blog post. "Windows 8.1 with Bing provides all the same great experiences that Windows 8.1 offers with the Windows 8.1 Update, and comes with Bing as the default search engine within Internet Explorer."

Users won't be locked in, assured LeBlanc. "And of course customers will be able to change that setting through the Internet Explorer menu, providing them with control over search engine settings."

There is no point in looking for a downloadable version of Windows 8.1 with Bing. LeBlanc revealed that the new flavor of Microsoft's flagship OS "will be only be available preloaded on devices from our hardware partners."

Buyers can may be entitled to added perks, however. "Some of these devices, in particular tablets, will also come with Office or a one-year subscription to Office 365," he said.

Microsoft trails Google in terms of both mobile OS adoption and search engine popularity. Android commands 62 percent of the tablet market, according to the latest figures from Gartner.

Google casts a similarly big shadow over search. comScore estimates that Google snagged 67.6 percent of U.S. searches during April 2014. Microsoft, by comparison, came in second with 18.6 percent.

Shoppers won't have long to wait for new Windows 8.1 with Bing hardware. "Over the next couple weeks leading into Computex in Taipei, you're going to see many of our hardware partners announce new Windows devices," said LeBlanc. Computex kicks off on June 2.

On May 27, Toshiba announced two new Encore 2 tablets, which run Windows 8.1 with Bing. Measuring 8 inches and 10.1 inches, the devices will be priced at $199.99 and $269.99, respectively, when they hit U.S. store shelves in July. Both models will include a one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal.

The release of Windows 8.1 with Bing, along with other recent moves by Microsoft, could help the company claw its way further up both markets. During the Build 2014 conference in April, the company announced that along with Windows Phone 8.1, it would begin offering Windows 8.1 to OEMs that produce mini Windows tablets (9 inches and under).

Smartphones based on Windows Phone 8.1 will ship with Cortana, Microsoft's Bing-powered digital personal assistant. A rival to Apple Siri and Google Now, Cortana leverages the company's search technology and works on machine learning to deliver sophisticated scheduling, alerting and automation services.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...