When rumors of a new Windows version called Windows 8.1 with Bing emerged, many Microsoft watchers speculated about what was happening. But I can report now that Windows 8.1 with Bing is nothing more than the low-cost version of Windows that Microsoft will offer to hardware makers that sell PCs for less than $250. And it comes with no restrictions for users at all.
I previously wrote about Windows 8.1 Bing in Free Windows? Maybe. In that article, I wondered aloud about the point of this release and offered up some fanciful ideas about what might be happening. As it turns out, it's much simpler than that.
According to internal documentation I've viewed, Windows 8.1 with Bing is a new Windows edition that helps PC makers add Windows to low-cost devices "while driving end user usage of Microsoft Services such as Bing and OneDrive." Windows 8.1 with Bing "is similar to other editions of Windows," the documentation notes. In fact, it's just Windows 8.1 "Core" (32-bit or 64-bit) with Update 1.
(There are multiple releases of this version of Windows aimed at different markets like China and the "N" versions Microsoft still must sell in Europe for some reason.)
With one difference: PC makers will not be able to change the default search engine using Microsoft or 3rd party deployment tools. So when a user who buys such a PC starts Internet Explorer, Bing will automatically be configured as the default Search Engine. And no other Internet Explorer defaults are changed. And, yes, the user can change the default search provider. Only the PC maker cannot.
The deal basically breaks down like this: In return for shipping PCs with Bing set as the default search provider—and thus not entering into a crapware deal with Google or some other search provider—PC makers can save money on Windows licensing.
And that's all it is. Not a free Windows version. Just the cheaper Windows licensing we had already heard about.