Some laptops and tablets now ship with Microsoft’s “Windows 8.1 with Bing” operating system, something you may see mentioned in their technical specifications. But how is this different from Windows 8.1 — is using Bing mandatory?

Like a lot of what’s going on around Windows 8 — especially with naming — Microsoft has created some unnecessary confusion here. The good news is that you don’t really need to care whether a device comes with Windows 8.1 with Bing or just Windows 8.1.

Windows 8.1 with Bing Enables Cheap Laptops and Tablets

RELATED: Do You Need the Professional Edition of Windows 8?

Windows 8.1 with Bing is just another Windows 8.1 edition, also called an SKU. Windows 8.1 offers a variety of editions, including the “core” edition of Windows 8.1, Windows 8.1 Professional, and Windows 8.1 Enterprise. We’ll leave the additional confusion of Windows RT aside.

Previously, the cheapest edition of Windows 8.1 for PC manufacturers was the core edition of Windows 8.1. To include Windows 8.1 on their computers, computer manufacturers have to pay a licensing fee for each copy. In the past, Microsoft has offered cheaper editions of Windows — for example, Windows 7 Starter — to help computer manufacturers lower Windows licensing costs on their most inexpensive computers. Windows 7 Starter went away when Windows 8 was released, so Windows licensing fees on cheaper laptops went up.

Windows 8.1 with Bing costs $0 for computer manufacturers to include on their laptops and tablets. That’s right — there’s no licensing fee at all. It’s designed so computer manufacturers can offer cheap laptops like HP’s forthcoming $200 Windows laptop. The manufacturer can keep all the money from the device without paying Microsoft a cent.

How to Get Windows 8.1 With Bing

This $0 edition of Windows is only free to system manufacturers. You can’t just go download Windows 8.1 with Bing and install it on your own computer. The cheapest retail version of Windows 8.1 you can buy yourself is still the core edition of Windows 8.1 at $120.

Windows 8.1 with Bing is only available for lower-cost devices. You’ll find Windows 8.1 with Bing on laptops costing $250 or less and cheap tablets smaller than nine inches. Those $1000+ Windows PCs will still require a more expensive version of Windows they’ll have to pay Microsoft for. There should be enough profit margin to go around on more expensive devices, but Microsoft is cutting their margins to compete with Chromebooks and inexpensive Android tablets on the low end.

What’s the Catch?

Windows 8.1 with Bing is free, but it does come with one catch. There’s a single requirement Microsoft imposes on hardware manufacturers here — Windows 8.1 with Bing “comes with Bing as the default search engine within Internet Explorer.”

For computer manufacturers, this means they can’t cut a deal with Google to offer Google as the default search engine and make an additional profit. To get that free copy of Windows, their computers will have to come with Bing as the default search engine — hence “Windows 8.1 with Bing.”

Note that even standard editions of Windows 8.1 come with Bing set as the default search engine in Internet Explorer. This means that there’s actually no functional difference between the core version of Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 with Bing — the only restriction is that computer manufacturers can’t change the default search engine before shipping the computer to you.

Do I Have to Use Bing?

RELATED: How To Change the Default Search Engine in Windows 8's Internet Explorer 10

The good news here is that there’s actually no difference between Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 with Bing for users. In the past, cheaper versions of Microsoft software have been limited — witness Windows 7 Starter, which didn’t let you change your desktop wallpaper, and Office Starter, which showed you banner ads while working on office documents.

Windows 8.1 with Bing is different. To change Windows 8.1 with Bing into “Windows 8.1 Without Bing,” all you have to do is open Internet Explorer and change your default search engine. You’re free to change your default web browser, too. You can also disable the system-wide Bing search integration and even uninstall all those full-screen Bing “Store apps,” if you like. You don’t even have to use a Microsoft account — you could even use a local user account and not touch any of Microsoft’s online services.

Windows 8.1 with Bing doesn’t impose any limits on you, the computer user. It only prevents the computer manufacturer from changing the default search engine. If you ever used Windows 7 Starter or Office Starter, you’ll realize this is a huge improvement.

So There’s No Difference, Really?

Nope, there’s no difference. That Windows 8.1 with Bing laptop just comes with Bing as the default search engine, just as most Windows 8.1 laptops already do.

Microsoft realizes that they’re facing a hard struggle at the low-end with Chromebooks and cheap Android tablets. For Microsoft, a user who chooses a Windows 8.1 laptop or tablet is better than one who chooses a Chromebook or Android tablet, even if they don’t make a Windows licensing fee. Microsoft will make some profit from Bing search ads, and they’ll also have the opportunity to upsell their users with Windows Store apps, OneDrive storage, Office 365 subscriptions, and Xbox Music streaming.

So, do you need to care about Windows 8.1 with Bing? Not at all. It’s a bit confusing that such devices are even labeled as “Windows 8.1 with Bing” instead of just “Windows 8.1.” There’s no difference to the end user aside from the label “Windows 8.1 with Bing” appearing instead of “Windows 8.1” throughout the operating system.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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