Microsoft continues its biggest reorganization plan in history and, at the same time, its key products are also undergoing some tweaks, with Windows clearly becoming a center of focus for this new wave of changes.
A few months ago, sources close to the matter started spreading a rumor that clearly came as a surprise for all Microsoft fanboys who were paying a couple hundred dollars for a full Windows license: the company was working to make the operating system free of charge, with no other details provided.
Soon after that, some other people familiar with Microsoft's business indicated that the Start menu, which the company removed in Windows 8, could return at some point with a completely new look in an effort supposed to turn the modern operating system into a much more familiar working environment that doesn't require so much time to get used to.
Fast forward a few months and here we are today with more information on these two very important things that could completely change the face of Windows as we knew it.
First of all, Microsoft indeed released a free Windows version, but with a catch. The free flavor of the operating system is actually a new SKU that's specifically aimed at manufacturers who are trying to bring more affordable devices to the market and thus tackle the domination of cheap Android tablets.
This means that users who were hoping to get a free version of Windows still have to wait a little bit longer, but in the meantime can purchase a low-cost device running Windows 8.1 with Bing. As you could guess by simply reading the product's name, this OS flavor comes with Bing configured as the default search engine in Internet Explorer.
Many have however asked us if there was actually any difference between the original Windows 8.1 version and the new SKU build, since both come with Bing as the default search engine in IE. Well, there is, as the new build that's designed for low-cost devices doesn't allow OEMs to change the default configuration.
Second of all, the Start menu will return in Windows 8.1, including this free version with Bing, but only in 2015. According to a new set of rumors coming via unofficial channels, the Start menu is expected to make a comeback at some point in the future, but this is not going to happen this year.
Terry Myerson, head of the OS division at Microsoft, said at the BUILD developer conference in April that the Start menu would be shipped to users this year in a second Windows 8.1 update. Today's rumors however claim that this deadline has been pushed to early 2015, meaning that Windows 9, which is expected to debut in April 2015, could be the OS version to include such an option.
In the end, here are two rumors that are more or less taking shape. The “free” Windows is here, with a catch of course, and the Start menu will return, but not in the next six months or so. Microsoft doesn't want to comment on these reports and keep in mind that they're all rumors, so consider yourself updated.