Microsoft has announced Windows 8.1 with Bing, a new version of the operating system that will soon begin shipping on low-cost hardware — and low-cost hardware only. The user experience is largely identical to regular old Windows 8.1; there aren't any restrictions or limitations that you might expect from a "cheap" Windows release. But to be clear, this isn't the free version of Windows that some were hoping for. Instead, the big changes here affect companies building Windows devices.
In exchange for lower licensing fees (Microsoft isn't revealing specifics on how much OEMs are saving), Windows 8.1 with Bing products must ship with Bing as the default search engine in Internet Explorer. End users can obviously switch to Google or another preferred search provider after purchase, but manufacturers must make Bing the default out of the box. Bing isn't the only Microsoft service getting a push, either. The company says that some devices — mostly tablets — will come with Office preinstalled. Occasionally they'll even include a year-long subscription to Office 365. That's not a bad deal if you're on the hunt for an inexpensive Windows machine.
Since it's targeted at and sold exclusively to OEMs, consumers won't have any way of purchasing a standalone copy of Windows 8.1 with Bing. It'll only come preloaded on devices from participating partners. Because it's taking this step, Microsoft says "more people — across consumer and commercial — will have access to an even broader selection of new devices with all the awesomeness that Windows 8.1 provides, and get Office too, all at a really affordable price." The first Windows 8.1 with Bing products will be announced "in the coming weeks."