Microsoft has announced aggressive upgrade pricing for its upcoming Windows 8 operating system: anyone running a copy of Windows from the last decade can upgrade for $40, making this potentially the cheapest Windows ever.
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The upgrade is a bit of a Hail Mary move: selling the OS is a profitable business, but it's possible that at the familar $100-$200 price, uptake of the risky new OS might be less than enthusiastic and the next phase of Microsoft's business may not take off. After all, many businesses and individuals just recently updated to Windows 7, and many are still running the venerable XP. The cost of upgrading again could be a significant deterrent. If Microsoft can't capture a big audience for Windows 8, its whole strategy for the next few years falls apart.
But if Microsoft offers this one-time "pardon" to its many legacy users, it could spur the kind of sales it needs to make Windows 8 the most popular OS they support, albeit at the cost of many millions of dollars. Notably, this is the "Pro" version, not the cheaper "RT" version that is aimed strictly at tablets.
There doesn't appear to be any fine print: you just go to Windows.com, pay your $40, and it will immediately walk you through the installation. If you want a disc, you can burn your own or pay an extra $30 for a hard copy at the brick-and-mortar store. The offer goes until January 31st, 2013, so you've got some time to think about it.
It's certainly a bargain, and some may draw parallels to Apple's cheap and free updates to OS X over the last few years. But bargain or not, it remains to be seen whether people will be game for the UI overhaul that defines Windows 8. We'll find out later this year when the OS is launched.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website is coldewey.cc.