For many years, if you wanted a full boxed copy of Windows, it would cost you a fairly hefty sum, into the many hundreds of dollars if you were after the top tier version of whatever Microsoft’s current operating system happened to be.
Things were markedly different if you were buying a new PC or laptop, where the cost of the operating system was built into the purchase price as part of what’s called an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) licence. OEM licence pricing details were always closely guarded by Microsoft’s retailer agreements, but those who sought to get refunds for that part of a computer purchase often found themselves clutching at less than twenty dollars, if that.
There’s no doubt that this served to help propel sales of new hardware — there wasn’t much point in buying a new windows licence if you could very nearly get a whole new computer for the same kind of price, in essence. At the same time, though, it’s a distinct disincentive for existing users with perfectly serviceable hardware to upgrade, because the high cost of the software is undeniably painful.
Which is why Microsoft’s announcement that it’s going to offer very reasonable prices for upgrading to Windows 8 was a very pleasant surprise, as it would seem to go against the company’s history in a very marked way. Windows 8 could be running on your PC this October for around US$39. I’ve got to qualify that in US dollars, because that’s what Microsoft does, and it’s worth noting that this is for a downloaded upgrade version of the operating system only; if you want a boxed DVD version, that’ll apparently cost $US69 instead. That’s for the full Pro version of Windows 8, by the way.
If you’ve purchased a new PC or laptop since June 1st, it’s an even cheaper proposition; upgrading a new system from Windows 7 to Windows 8 will cost $14.99 as long as you do it before January 31st 2013.
All of those prospects are for upgrades from anything that’s at least running Windows XP, although you’d have to be both lucky and extremely frugal to be running something that was utilising an older Windows OS and still qualified to run Windows 8. If you’re looking at buying a completely new Windows 8 licence, it’s likely to be quite a bit more expensive — although Microsoft hasn’t specified exactly how much that will be.
If you’re buying a new laptop in the coming months, it’s expected that retailers will have full systems with Windows 8 in them sometime in August; for upgrading software systems the expected launch date is October.
So why the big change of heart from Microsoft? Partly it’s a matter of market pressures; Apple’s offered the last few upgrades of its OS X operating system for under fifty bucks — and will do so again with Mountain Lion, the upgrade to OS X due this month. Microsoft’s pretty keen to take Apple on head first, and aggressive operating system pricing is part of that strategy.
Microsoft’s also taken a gamble with Windows 8, given the completely revamped Metro interface, and there’s only way that it’ll gain the kind of traction it needs to get developers on board with it, and that’s by having a critical mass of actual Windows 8 users. At the kind of prices Microsoft’s offering Windows 8 upgrades for, it’s quite likely that the operating system will be adopted much more quickly than previous versions.