Users of Windows XP, Windows 7, or Windows Vista will be able to purchase and download Windows 8 Pro for just $39.99, a Microsoft spokesman said. "We set out to make it as easy as possible for everyone to upgrade to Windows 8," said the spokesman.
The program, which starts with Windows 8's general availability later this year and runs through January 31, 2013, also lets users install Windows Media Center for free once they've completed the upgrade.
Microsoft is encouraging users to upgrade online with the help of its Web-based Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant tool. "We have simplified the Windows upgrade experience," said Microsoft's spokesman. For those uncomfortable with that process, the company is offering an upgrade DVD through retail stores, but it's priced at $69.99.
[ Considering a Windows 8 ARM tablet? Here's what you need to know now: Windows 8 ARM Tablets: 8 Must-Know Facts. ]
The upgrade experience will differ depending on which version of Windows users are currently running. Windows 7 to Windows 8 offers the most seamless upgrade, as users' settings, personal files, and apps will remain intact. From Windows Vista, settings and personal files are preserved, and from XP, only personal files will make the jump, although apps can be reinstalled after the upgrade is complete (assuming users still have installation media and authentication codes).
The program is noteworthy as it will make it considerably less expensive for XP and Vista users to upgrade to Windows 8 compared to Windows 7. The price for a Windows 7 upgrade DVD is currently $199 when purchased through Microsoft's online store.
Microsoft's push to get users onto Windows 8 isn't surprising. The OS represents the biggest break with previous versions since the debut of Windows 95, which introduced the Start button, Task Bar, and other Windows staples. Windows 8 replaces the Start screen with Live Tiles, part of Microsoft's new Metro interface. Microsoft is counting on Metro to give its products a consistent look and feel across smartphones, tablets, and PCs.
The upgrade program will be available in 131 markets, including the U.S. Microsoft has yet to announce a formal shipping date for Windows 8, but it's expected to be available in the fall.
At this year's InformationWeek 500 Conference, C-level execs will gather to discuss how they're rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.