Giving Windows Away for Free Now Part of Microsoft’s Push for Low-Cost Tablets

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The iPad and Android dominate the battle for tablet marketshare, while Windows is barely a blip. Microsoft is doing everything it can to change that, however, even giving Windows away to companies that make a certain type of device.

Microsoft Windows Free for Mid-Size TabletsThat was one of the announcements at today’s Build conference: companies that make tablets with screens less than 9 inches in size will no longer have to buy Microsoft’s operating system.

A Race to the Entry Level

Clearly, the point of this move is to help companies like Dell, Asus, and Toshiba make very low-cost tablets, a market currently dominated by Google Android.

One of the reasons low-end Android tablets are so inexpensive is Google gives its mobile operating system away for free — and now Microsoft is following suit.

The other reason Android devices are so affordable is that OS has minimal hardware requirements. And again, Microsoft is following suit: a version of Windows 8.1 debuting this month will be able to run on tablets with just 1GB of RAM and only 16GB of internal storage, half the current requirements.

Decades ago, Windows first rose to prominence partially because PCs running it were cheaper than those of its top rival. Until now, however, users had been asked to pay a premium for Windows tablets, something that Microsoft clearly wants to change.

Office Is the Real Cash Cow

With every sub-9-inch tablet, Microsoft is going to include a free year of Office 365, its subscription service that gives users access to Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and other applications. This can be seen as a step back for consumers, as mid-size Windows tablets currently come bundled with a full copy of Microsoft Office Home & Student.

But it’s part of Microsoft’s strategy to stop selling software and start renting it. After the first year of ownership, those who buy mid-size Windows tablets who want to keep using Office will need to start paying a subscription fee, so Microsoft will eventually make money by giving one of its products away for free.

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