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Microsoft Windows 8.1 Improves Non-Touch Controls, Slashes Price

Paul Ausick

One of the major flaws in Windows 8 from Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) was its touch-screen interface. At least, that was a flaw according to users who told the company time and again that they didn’t like the interface.

An updated release of the operating system due in the Spring will include a new mouse-driven interface to replace the fix that the company added when it finally understood how much users hated the touch-screen interface on the desktop version of the operating system. Not only that, the price has reportedly been slashed for some computers.

At the Mobile World Congress now under way in Barcelona, the company outlined this and other changes to Windows 8 to respond both to customers’ complaints and to the threat posed by Google Inc. (GOOG) and its inexpensive Chromebook. The low-cost Chromebook had grabbed nearly a 10% share of the North American business market and some 21% of the notebook sales market by the end of 2013 according to research firm NPD Group. There is some dispute about how much usage the Chromebooks are getting. Some folks believe that as the latest manifestation of the short-lived netbook phenomenon Chromebooks may not be a long-term threat to Microsoft.

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But the Redmond giant is not going to take any chances. Bloomberg reported last week that Microsoft will charge laptop makers just $15 to license a copy of Windows 8.1 on devices intended to retail for less than $250. The usual licensing fee for Windows is $50.

Microsoft will also change hardware requirements for its Windows Phone operating system which should allow phone makers to build cheaper phones. The new platform will also support more chips from Qualcomm Corp. (QCOM), including the chipmakers’ low-cost family. The company will also add support for the Chinese version of LTE and support for dual SIM cards, both important in the world’s fastest growing market for smartphones.

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