Microsoft is currently experimenting with a free version of Windows 8.1 that could boost the number of people using the operating system. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that the company is building "Windows 8.1 with Bing," a version that will bundle key Microsoft apps and services. While early versions of the software have leaked online, we understand that Windows 8.1 with Bing is an experimental project that aims to bring a low-cost version of Windows to consumers. ZDNet first reported some Windows 8.1 with Bing details earlier this week.

Designed as a free or low-cost upgrade for Windows 7 users

We’re told that Microsoft is aiming to position Windows 8.1 with Bing as a free or low-cost upgrade for Windows 7 users. Any upgrade offers will be focused on boosting the number of people using Windows 8.1. This Bing-powered version of Windows 8.1 may also be offered to PC makers as part of recent license cuts for devices under $250. It’s not clear how committed Microsoft is to these plans, but the experiment is part of a number of initiatives designed to push and monetize Microsoft’s cloud services and apps. Microsoft is increasingly betting on Bing as a platform it can monetize in the future. Microsoft is also considering low-cost or free versions of Windows Phone, and the company is working towards merging its Windows RT and Windows Phone software into a single version designed for ARM-based chipsets.

Bing-powered apps are currently bundled into Windows 8.1, and a leaked version of "Windows 8.1 with Bing" does not appear to reveal any significant changes yet. Microsoft recently unveiled its Windows 8.1 spring update, and the company is expected to further detail the update at its Build developer conference in April. Additional details around the merging of Windows RT and Windows Phone are also expected to be shared at the Build conference.