New Vista buyers can expect to pay more for Windows 7

After considerable confusion over whether Microsoft will offer free upgrades to Windows 7 for new PC buyers who find Windows Vista pre-installed, in an announcement this morning that required clarification, some confirmations, and a bit of editing, the company stated that it is leaving it up to PC manufacturers to determine how customers will get Windows 7 upgrades, and how much they'll cost.

Customers who already have Windows Vista on their PCs, Microsoft confirmed to Betanews this morning, can order upgrades to Windows 7 through Microsoft, but will pay full price to do so. Upgrading to Win7 Home Premium will cost about $10 less than upgrading to Vista Home Premium, however -- a difference between $129.95 for Vista and $119.99 for Win7. Upgrades to the Professional and Ultimate SKUs of Win7 will cost 4¢ more than did the corresponding upgrades to the Business and Ultimate SKUs of Vista -- $199.99 and $219.99, respectively. And the full retail prices for Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate will be in alignment with the existing prices for Vista Home Basic (not Premium), Business, and Ultimate SKUs, except their MSRPs will now end in ".99" rather than ".95."

The news as it's being presented to Vista customers now is that they can "get Windows 7." The small print (and yes, there is small print and smaller print) reads as follows: "When you buy Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, or Ultimate either as a packaged product or on a qualifying PC you can get a comparable upgrade version of Windows 7 after it's generally available on October 22, 2009."

In a blog post this morning, Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc was able to advance the "no-cost" option: "Anyone who buys a PC from a participating OEM or retailer with Windows Vista Home Premium, Business or Ultimate on it will all receive an upgrade to the corresponding version of Windows 7 at little or no cost to customers."

But it takes digging into the FAQ on the company's new upgrade offer site for customers to learn that there may very well be a price involved anyway.

In response to the question, "Will the upgrade cost anything extra," the FAQ reads: "For new PC purchases, the upgrade offers will vary by PC manufacturer so please check with them for details. A good place to start looking for contact information is at our Windows 7 Upgrade Option page," referring to the page that leads consumers to the FAQ. "For Windows Vista packaged software, you will be required to provide payment information to cover shipping and handling fees."

So the "upgrade offer" -- contrary to the indications of what had been identified as a leaked Microsoft memo last May -- is actually a program to allow manufacturers including HP, Dell, Toshiba, and Lenovo to provide Windows 7 upgrades to new Windows Vista purchasers, at a cost of their choosing. While the offer page this morning featured links to notebook models that Microsoft says qualify for the upgrade offer, whatever that might be, the links provided to manufacturer's sites for the specific models that qualify -- such as the Lenovo Y650 and the Dell Studio 15 -- did not state anything whatsoever about Windows 7 upgrades. That may change tomorrow, when the upgrade program is slated to officially begin.

As Corporate Vice President Brad Brooks stated in a video published this morning (unavailable for part of this morning due to Microsoft server trouble), pre-orders for Windows 7 will begin tomorrow, June 26, through participating retailers, for discounted prices. "For customers in the US, Canada, and Japan, starting tomorrow on June 26," Brooks stated, "they will be able...to pre-order a copy of Windows 7 for delivery on October 22 of either Home Premium or Windows 7 Pro versions. Home Premium in the US...pricing will be $49.99, and the Pro version will be for $99.99." The company expects to have a similar program in place for Europe by July 15, Brooks added.

Yet it appears that whether those retailers choose to participate beginning tomorrow or later will be up to them. Although the upgrade program is scheduled to end on January 31, 2010, according to more small print, whether retailers choose to end their participation sooner will be up to them: "However, individual PC manufacturers may choose to offer the option for a shorter period."

In the video, Brad Brooks referred to the upgrade plan as "by far our most aggressive pricing that we've ever done for any type of offer with Windows, but it only goes to show the level of excitement we have about this product, not just our customers."

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