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Jul 11 2012

The Reasons Behind the $40 Windows 8 Pro Upgrade

It’s been widely reported that Microsoft is making an unprecedented step in Windows history by offering upgrades to its new Windows 8 operating system by giving it away for $40 a pop which is heading well towards Mac OS X upgrade territory in terms of dollar amounts. Mind you, you won’t get the entry level version of Windows 8 – you’ll get the top retail version, Windows 8 Professional. Plus, this offer isn’t just for existing users of Windows 7 but also Windows Vista and Windows XP as well.

I reckon this is an incredible deal and I know I’ll be tempted to fork out for a couple of upgrade licenses myself.

However, it does beg the question as to why Microsoft is taking this approach.

In a nutshell, it boils down to four five major points in my mind, specifically:

  1. it gets people off XP, Vista and 7,
  2. it accelerates the move from Internet Explorer 6 through 9 (four older versions of IE given that IE10 is bundled with Windows 8),
  3. it drives traffic to Bing,
  4. it gets people used to Metro interface and Windows marketplace to drive support for Windows Phone 8 handsets and Windows RT tablets,
  5. perhaps driving down piracy of Windows.

A real threat to the success of Windows 8 is ironically the ongoing success of its predecessors. Windows XP continues to be a thorn in the side for Windows 7 despite the latter growing beyond the install base of the former late last year. Either way, supporting older versions of Windows in terms of security patches does take time and effort which could be put towards maintaining and improving the most current version of the operating system.

Similarly, web browsers are a prime vector for security exploits these days and older versions of browsers tend not to have the more sophisticated safeguards built into them as their more recent counterparts. Furthermore, older browsers such as Internet Explorer 6 can no longer render some websites properly (such as YouTube) while its younger siblings, IE7 and IE8 can be a pain in terms of coding for quirks.

Leading on from the web is the close-knit subject of search. Unsurprisingly, Bing has been languishing behind Google as a distant second but as part of Microsoft’s strategy of integrating online services into its operating systems and its apps this could well change (with Windows Phone 7 being a prime example followed by Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 and Windows RT). Google does this with its services in its Android operating system while Apple is seeking to divest itself of reliance upon Google. Microsoft has sunk a lot of time and money into Bing to improve not only the relevance of search results but also its look and feel so this tight integration into Windows 8 and IE10 might see it get a leg up.

Finally, the Metro interface has been the biggest change to Windows since Windows 95 when we leapt out of the Program Manager in Windows 3.11 and into a true desktop interface while starting to leave behind MS-DOS and its command line interface. The mouse became the primary interface device and the right mouse button gained a purpose in the form of context menus. The Metro interface and its live tiles has been tested on a smaller audience in the form of Windows Phone 7 and has been well received as an alternative and innovative interface to “grid of icons” paradigm offered by iOS and Android. Now, Microsoft is pretty much betting the farm on the success of Metro on the desktop to help drive further interest in Windows Phone 8 devices and Windows RT tablets when they eventually arrive.

Is Microsoft crazy? Maybe, maybe not. It’s certainly the best value proposition for Windows users in, well, ever in terms of an upgrade opportunity while Microsoft looks like it has all of its ducks lined up in a row. This could well mark a huge comeback in terms of online services as well as tablet mobile devices for Microsoft if things go according to plan.

Edit: One other thing that I forgot to mention and now seems rather obvious after someone mentioned it to me is the affect this price might have on potential piracy (now added as a fifth bullet point in the original article – thanks to James Steendam!). There are many ways to carve this up, including:

  • piracy because full retail and upgrade prices were genuinely too high but could now afford it,
  • piracy because it was convenient but now the lower cost outweighs the cons of using a cracked version of Windows,
  • pirates gonna pirate (people who would never buy a legitimate copy of Windows anyway and still won’t) – yargh!

Apple has demonstrated that cheap upgrades sell like hotcakes and while both companies handle operating system legitimacy in different ways, Microsoft stands to gain more than it otherwise would financially.

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