Windows for $0? Yes, on a $35 Raspberry Pi -- but there's a catch

Microsoft and the Raspberry Pi Foundation team up to offer Windows 10 for developers of the tinkerer-favorite board

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Want a do-it-yourself Windows PC for a mere $35 -- with the Windows license costing a fat $0? That's what a joint announcement between Microsoft and the Raspberry Pi Foundation amounts to.

Hot on the heels of word of a new edition of the Raspberry Pi, Microsoft has announced it will provide copies of Windows 10 for the Pi 2, "free for the Maker community through the Windows Developer Program for IoT later this year."

The program aims to "bring Windows to a new class of small devices," with the Raspberry Pi 2 joining the first- and second-generation Intel Galileo boards already in the program. Developers can use Visual Studio Express, also available at no charge, to perform the actual development for the boards.

Raspberry Pi 2 Raspberry Pi Foundation

Version 2 of the Raspberry Pi ups the power while retaining the price and will have Windows 10 available freely available for it through a Microsoft IoT developer's program.

None of this means Windows 10 is turning into a total giveaway, though. The wording of the announcement implies that licenses for Raspberry Pi-compatible versions of Windows 10 won't be offered to all comers; you need to register with the program to become eligible for the software. It's unlikely this deal will be extended unilaterally to other single-board computers. More likely, Microsoft will consider others boards on a case-by-case basis for inclusion in the program.

Microsoft has made Windows licenses freely available to manufacturers for devices with integrated screens smaller than 9 inches, as part of a general push to put Windows 8 and beyond into as many hands as possible. But that rule obviously didn't include headless devices, since that could make any bare motherboard eligible. The IoT program is restricted to a a very small list of hardware from specific manufacturers and right now is meant mainly for individual hardware hackers, not those intending to develop a commercial product. (The developer program FAQ reads, "We do not recommend or support putting the [Windows 10] bits into any product or using this version of Windows for commercial use at this time.")

Microsoft had been pushing Windows Embedded as an IoT platform and a gateway to the rest of the company's information-management fabric -- mainly Azure cloud storage and compute. With the baseline for what could constitute IoT hardware rising -- along with the ease of satisfying Windows's minimum hardware requirements -- it's not surprising Microsoft wants to have Windows 10 considered as an IoT development platform, giving it yet another arena in which to expand.

That said, the company has stressed that Windows Embedded is not going away: "Windows Embedded Compact remains an important part of our broad IoT offering. It remains Microsoft’s only real-time operating system and is the operating system with the broadest set of ports, including numerous levels of ARM and x86 architectures. ... We’re committed to continue serving our customers in this space."

The new version of Raspberry Pi improves on its predecessor in a number of ways. Powered by a quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 processor running at 900MHz (up from a single core running at 700MHz) and a 250MHz GPU, it sports 1GB of RAM and now allows for full 1,080p 30fps video playback of H.264-encoded video. The price tag, however, remains the same: $35.

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