The devices eligible for the cheap Windows 8.1 licenses will not be required to complete Microsoft's complicated logo certification -- a process that guarantees hardware works with the operating system -- said The Verge, and do not need to be touch-enabled. The latter exemption was aimed at traditional clamshell-style notebooks, as tablets demand touch.
"It wouldn't be too surprising," said Rubin when asked about the likelihood Microsoft has selectively slashed Windows pricing. "Microsoft has defended the licensing price of Windows, arguing that it does more and provides more value. However, it has made other concessions, particularly in the low price/small display tablet market, throwing in a version of Office."
Rubin was talking about reports a year ago that Microsoft discounted a combination Windows-Office license to $30 from the usual $120; later, Microsoft reportedly offered small tablet makers an Office 2013 license for free.
Other precedents exist for Microsoft's price cuts, such as during the heyday of "netbooks," the cheap, lightweight and underpowered notebooks that stormed into the market in 2007. Netbooks peaked in 2009 as they captured about 20 percent of the portable PC market, then fell by the wayside in 2010 and 2011 as tablets assumed their roles and full-fledged notebooks closed in on netbook prices.
When netbooks first appeared, they were powered by the open-source Linux, a threat to Microsoft's Windows revenue. In response, Microsoft hijacked netbooks with Windows XP, extending the sales life of the even-then-aged OS, then created Windows 7 Starter, a cheaper and purposefully crippled version, to sell to OEMs.
The landscape is quite different now than during the high-water mark of netbooks: PC shipments contracted 10 percent last year, an historic downturn; Android and Apple iOS-powered tablets continue to attract consumers' dollars that otherwise might be spent on a new PC; and Windows 8 has received an apathetic, at times antagonistic, reaction from customers.
Microsoft may also be trying to mend a fence or two with OEMs with the price cut. Computer makers, even the most stalwart of partners, were taken by surprise in mid-2012 when Microsoft began directly competing with them using its Surface line of tablets and 2-in-1s. Slowing sales, especially to consumers, have been blamed on a host of problems by the OEMs, including Windows 8 and even Windows 8.1. Some have begun experimenting with Chrome OS or even Android as the backbone for their personal computers.
Two weeks ago, Microsoft's top marketing officer, Tami Reller, hinted that the company is trying to do better by the OEMs. "We'll just do everything possible in the OS itself, and then in the other programs that surround it, to make it easy for OEMs to deliver very competitive products," Reller said, after touting a $279 Windows notebook Microsoft had recently used as the focus for its advertising.
There are currently few sub-$250 Windows devices, either tablets or notebooks. On Saturday, Microsoft's online store showed just one, a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet on sale for $229. Meanwhile, of the 12 notebooks priced less than $300 at Amazon.com, all but two were Chromebooks. The pair of Windows systems were priced at $280 and $300.