The coming Windows 8 mini tablets: Netbooks revisited?

Whether or not Microsoft is slashing prices it is charging PC makers to license Windows 8, will the coming generation of Windows 8 minis be little more than netbooks revisited?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that according to its sources, Microsoft is offering its PC partners Windows 8 plus Office at a substantial discount -- $30 per copy price -- as opposed to the $120 one that they've supposedly been paying for Windows 8.


This may not be the fire sale many are making it out to be -- though I'm not saying that because I believe Windows 8/Windows RT sales have been anything to write home about.

The WSJ  cited one unnamed person saying Microsoft is making the $30 per copy price available to its partners for use on PCs and tablets with screens of any size. But it also could be the case that the $30 price is only for the "mini" tablets with screen sizes under 10.8 inches that are expected to arrive later this year.

If $30 is the smaller-screen price only, this could be a case of Microsoft acknowledging the inevitable fact that smaller-screen devices tend to be cheaper than larger-screen PCs. In the old Windows-is-the-only-game-in-town days, Microsoft wouldn't have hesitated in charging PC makers $120 per copy for Windows even if it were to be housed in a $200-$300 device. In these post-PC/PC-plus days, that kind of pricing isn't realistic.

With Windows 7, Microsoft allegedly slashed the prices it was charging netbook makers for each copy of Windows. Microsoft did this because it was willing to do whatever it took to keep Linux from winning in that space. Maybe this is a parallel situation with Windows 8 and Microsoft is willing to hack the price it's charging OEMs to load Windows 8 on mini tablets to thwart Android.

Another possibility, as Paul Thurrott posited at the Windows SuperSite, is that the alleged $30 per copy cited by the WSJ might the price Microsoft is offering to mini-tablet makers for Windows RT (not 8) plus Office 2013 RT. Given fewer and fewer OEMs seem interested in getting on the Windows RT bandwagon, maybe the Softies are trying to use price as a Windows RT carrot.

Regardless of how and if Microsoft's Windows 8 OEM pricing is changing, I'm wondering what these coming Windows 8 mini tablets are going to look like. Will OEMs continue their race to the bottom? Will they be little more than cheaply made netbooks hidden under a touch screen? Or will these mini Windows 8 tablets come in around $500 or so -- in other words, around the same price as the Microsoft Surface RT (and hopefully more like the RT in terms of device quality)?

Remember: It was netbook sales that propped up Microsoft's Windows tallies, even as PC demand began to soften. While Microsoft no doubt would prefer to be able to charge PC makers as much as the market will bear per copy of Windows, a Windows 8 device sale is a Windows 8 device sale....

Editorial standards