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Redmond slashing Win8, Office OEM rates for small devices

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Microsoft is reportedly offering its OEM partners discounted rates on its Windows 8 and Office 2013 software, in a move designed to encourage production of more Windows-powered tablets and ultraportables.

As to just how low Redmond is willing to go, however, and what kinds of devices qualify for the discounts, reports vary.

According to Taiwanese tech site DigiTimes, makers of touchscreen notebooks with 11.6-inch and smaller screens can now buy Windows 8 licenses for $20 less than the previous list price. What's more, devices with screen diagonals of 10.8 inches or less qualify for the discounted Windows licenses plus free copies of Office 2013.

The Taiwanese sources claim they have been paying between $80–90 in US dollars for Windows 8 licenses so far, so the discounts would bring the price down to between $60–70 per unit.

But the Wall Street Journal – often a more reliable source than the Asian tech press – has heard differently. It claims OEMs had previously been paying around $120 for Windows 8 together with Office, but that in late February Microsoft began offering the same bundle to makers of 10.8-inch touchscreen devices for just $30.

Manufacturers of devices with larger touchscreens could still get Windows 8 at a discount, the paper reports, but not Office.

The Journal isn't saying just where it's getting its information, but it assures us that it has been talking to the oft-cited "people familiar with the situation."

For its part, Microsoft has remained mum, with a spokesman offering only, "As we've said before, Windows 8 was built to scale across all sizes of PCs and tablets – large and small. We continue to work with partners to ensure that Windows is available across a diverse range of devices."

Microsoft offering OEMs Windows bundled with Office would not be unheard-of. The company already includes a copy of Office 2013 Home and Student Edition with every license of Windows RT (its cut-down OS for ARM processors) and that's likely to be the same version of the suite it's now offering to makers of Windows 8 devices.

What is somewhat unusual, on the other hand, is for Redmond to offer discounts on its OEM license fees once its list prices have been set.

Still, reports of slow Windows 8 sales persist, and despite Microsoft offering customers deep discounts on Windows 8 upgrades, many analysts believe that most of the 60 million licenses Redmond claims to have shifted so far have gone to OEMs. Doubtless it wouldn't mind moving a few more.

What is interesting, however – assuming the rumors are true – is that Microsoft now seems to be encouraging OEMs to build small devices based on full Windows 8, rather than lowering the price of Windows RT as analysts have recommended.

Windows RT has not exactly been a resounding success so far. Meanwhile, overall fondleslab sales are only expected to increase, with most of those dollars projected to go to Android devices and Apple's iPad.

It may be that Microsoft now believes its best chance of carving itself a significant slice of that pie will be for OEMs to market tablets that offer both a low price tag and the full power of Windows. What that might mean for the future of Windows RT remains to be seen. ®

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