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Free Windows? Maybe

Free Windows? Maybe

Windows 8.1 with Bing could be the way of the future

Microsoft is testing whether it makes sense to provide a free version of Windows down the road. And while recent leaks have revealed the existence of something called Windows 8.1 with Bing, it's unclear what this bundling would mean to users. So let's guess!

We do live in a time of questions, that's for sure.

Reports about this possible free version of Windows originate with Mary Jo Foley, who notes that Microsoft is "experimenting with monetization." But Windows leaker WZOR got things started with a set of screenshots of a new Windows product edition, or SKU, called ... Windows 8.1 with Bing.

Now, most of you understand that Windows 8.1 already ships with Bing, so to speak, in the form of integrated Smart Search and numerous (and, it should be noted, high quality) Bing apps. My theory is that Windows 8.1 with Bing could deliver a number of changes, however. This might include:

No more disabling Bing. Today you can disable Bing integration in Smart Search and make it work like the old days, and just search your PC. Maybe Windows 8.1 with Bing would remove that functionality.

No more disabling Bing, redux. And what about the browser? Since the Modern mobile app version of Internet Explorer is already locked down for your pleasure, maybe it should be tied to Bing permanently too.

Ad-supported. This one makes my eyeballs itch, but it's not hard to imagine ads in Windows. Heck, they're already there: In the Bing apps. Maybe they could be in all apps. And on the Start screen. Youch.

Windows RT. Why not just make Windows RT the free version? You could rebrand it as Windows with Bing, which sounds so much better than "Windows without the desktop." (The leaked shots show an x86 build, however.)

It's also worth remembering that Microsoft is in the middle of moving towards much less expensive Windows licensing terms for low-end devices. I think this move includes Windows on the desktop, tablet and on phones, and not just traditional Windows. And that an ad-supported, free version of Windows would be obviously be the ultimate way to get devices prices as low as they can go.

In fact, I'd actually back this plan as long as there was a way to pay to get rid of the ads. You know, something that could even be tied to an Office 365-like subscription. Let's call it Windows 365.

Just a thought.

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