Microsoft is reportedly considering a free version of the Windows 8.1 operating system — called “Windows 8.1 with Bing” — designed to get more consumer and business users to upgrade from their existing Windows version or keep from defecting to an alternate platform, such as Google Chrome.
Reports of the free version with integrated Bing search and applications features come just days after news broke that Microsoft is lowering the price of Windows 8.1 by 70 percent for mobile devices with retail prices of under $250 to better compete against Google’s Android.
After sixteen months on the market, it’s safe to call Windows 8 a disaster on the scale of Windows Vista. According to NetMarketShare, a tracker of software market share numbers, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 barely register on the scale. In February, Windows 8.1’s market share climbed to 4.3 percent, up from 3.94 percent in January.
If anything, Windows 8.1 market share gains are coming at the expense of Windows 8, which saw its market share fall .24 percent.
Businesses and consumers have roundly rejected Windows 8 and its Modern (formerly Metro) interface as being too clunky for practical use. The operating system was designed as Microsoft’s first legitimate foray into mobile systems, such as tablets. Microsoft’s strategy was to provide the market with a device that served personal and professional uses. However, users say it does little in either scenario.
Microsoft is reportedly readying Windows 9 for release in April 2015, in which it’s expected to revert back to many of the tent-pole features of Windows 7, and bifurcate the operating systems between desktop and mobile implementations. Already, Microsoft is inching backwards in giving users the option to bypass the Modern touch interface all together.
Microsoft may point to the .4 percent increase in Windows 8.1 as progress. However, Windows XP, which Microsoft will end support in April, saw a .23 percent increase, as well. And Windows 7, which dominates the PC landscape, saw no change in market share. These numbers point to an operating system barely hanging on.
Word of a possible free version of Windows 8.1 also comes with news of the departure of two high profile Microsoft executives Tony Bates, executive vice president for business development and evangelism, and Tami Reller, executive vice president of marketing. Bates, the former CEO of Skype and one-time frontrunner to succeed Steve Ballmer as Microsoft’s CEO, and Reller, are the first two major executives to leave the company under Nadella.
The departure of Bates and Reller may signal the beginning of another change, namely in culture. Microsoft chairman John Thompson has said Microsoft’s culture is similar to that of IBM in the early 1990s, in great need to adjust to the changing competitive realities that Microsoft is no longer master of its domain.
For now, Microsoft seems intent to try to compete with rivals on price rather than features and functionality.
This article originally appeared on Channelnomics.com.