Remember that rumor about Microsoft cutting Windows 8.1 pricing for sub-$250 PCs? Well, it did that and then some at its Build developer conference in San Francisco. Microsoft announced that Windows will be available to hardware makers free of charge for smartphones and tablets with screens smaller than 9". As an added bonus, the OS will come with a one-year subscription to Office 365.
And there's more.
As Microsoft VP of Operating Systems Terry Myerson explains in this blog post, Windows will also be free for "Internet of Things" devices. A version of the OS was demoed on Intel's tiny Quark processor, though there's no word on when it will be released.
It's hard to get excited about Windows on IoT devices, mostly wearables and connected home appliances aren't very exciting. However, eliminating the cost of a Windows license for smartphones and smaller tablets is a pretty big deal. So is the fact that the new Windows 8.1 update allows the OS to run on low-end Bay Trail tablets in addition to systems with just 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. It's unclear how much free storage will be available on 16GB configs or whether all Windows users will be able to trim the OS's footprint, but device makers will at least have a little more flexibility at the low end of the market, where margins are slim and the competition is well-entrenched.