make or break technology bet for Redmond. Here's what we know so far.
1. Windows 7 To Windows 8: Win7, not surprisingly, offers the simplest and most straightforward upgrade path to Windows 8. According to Microsoft, current Windows 7 users will be able to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, via a download, for just $39.99. The process retains all of the users' existing files, apps, and personal settings.
2. Windows Vista To Windows 8: Vista users (if there are any left) can also move to Windows 8 Pro via the $39.99 download option. The process preserves personal files and settings, but apps will need to be reinstalled.
3. XP To Windows 8: The upgrade program Microsoft announced stretches back to cover Windows XP, which is now more than a decade old. It's an acknowledgement by Redmond that XP still commands significant market share, particularly in the enterprise and small businesses segments. XP users can download the Win8 Pro upgrade for $39.99, but only their personal files will be maintained after upgrading. Apps and settings will need to be manually restored. All official support for XP ends in 2014.
[ Get expert guidance on Microsoft Windows 8. InformationWeek's Windows 8 Super Guide rounds up the key news, analysis, and reviews that you need. ]
4. Installation: Once the Windows 8 upgrade files have been downloaded, users will be given the choice to either begin installation immediately, or save the files and install later. Those choosing the latter option can create a bootable USB or .ISO file, which can be burned to a DVD.
5. Backup DVD: Users who purchase and download the Windows 8 upgrade can also request a pre-configured backup DVD, which Microsoft will send through snail mail for $15.
6. Retail Option: Consumers who are not comfortable with a DIY download or burning DVDs can purchase boxed upgrade discs that will be available at Best Buy and other major retailers. The luxury of getting the packaged DVD version comes at a price however: Windows 8 Pro upgrade purchased on a retail disc costs $69.99--75% more than the download version.
7. New PC Buyers: Shoppers who can't wait for Windows 8 systems to hit the stores later this year can buy a new, Windows 7 system and upgrade later to Windows 8 Pro. The cost of that option is just $14.99 (in addition, of course, to the price of the new computer). The program is meant to keep PC sales humming during the summer months while Microsoft puts the finishing touches on Windows 8.
8. Deadlines: Both the $39.99 software-only upgrade program and the $14.99 system upgrade expire Jan. 31, 2013, although in the case of the latter users have until Feb. 28 to download the Windows 8 upgrade files. Microsoft has not announced an official release date for Windows 8, but it's expected to be available in the fall.