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Microsoft can't give it away (or can it?)

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Windows 8 and 8.1 have consistently fallen short of Microsoft's hopes since their release. PC users have been resistant to the latest incarnations of the Windows OS, thanks in no small part to the difficulty of installation. Like the political hopeful who can't get elected dogcatcher, Microsoft appears to be ready to take a drastic step and offer the upgrade free of charge.

The current version of Windows 8.1 runs $119.99 or more, but Microsoft seems to be considering an option that costs little or nothing. Sounds great—except for the part that doesn't. This “Windows 8.1 With Bing,” like any free app, is predicted to be littered with ads and offer less user-centered personalization and control for the user. Given that customization is one of the important differences between PCs and Apple products, this may rub PC users the wrong way.

This experiment isn't Microsoft's first in this realm. You may recall “Starter” versions of both Windows XP and Windows 7. Both came with lower fees and far fewer options, which Microsoft sold as “preconfigured settings,” for example. The “Starter” editions were akin to a grandparent OS: too simple for a serious user, but also too simple to mess up.

Mashable (and other media outlets) reported that Russian website Wzor.net leaked screenshots of the “light” edition of Windows 8.1. The main difference thus far appears to be that users will enjoy only limited touchscreen support. Of course limited support beats nothing, and since all XP support will soon be gone, Windows users may soon find themselves forced to switch anyway.

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