FAQ: The ins and out of Windows 8 pricing

What's it cost to whom and for what

Last week, Microsoft and its retail partners revealed a few more details about Windows 8 pricing, clarifying what the Redmond, Wash., developer has purposefully left muddy in the months leading up to its release next week.

Windows 8 may come in fewer flavors than its predecessors, but pricing seems as confusing as ever, in large part because of Microsoft's secrecy -- this cycle it's dribbled out information so slowly it's driven some analysts half-crazy -- with a dash also due to a record-setting discount for upgraders through the end of January.

We've tried to answer the most-pressing questions, filled in the blanks as best we could, and thrown up our hands when we had no more of a clue than you.

If Microsoft answers the open questions -- it again declined to do so last Friday -- we'll be back with an updated FAQ.

Can I score a free copy of Windows 8? Yes, you can, but the OS is good for just 90 days.

The free trial of Windows 8 Pro RTM (release to manufacturing) can be downloaded from this Microsoft website. But when the 90 days are up, you have to replace the trial with a purchased copy or another operating system, and reinstall all applications, other software and files.

Sorry, I like OSes that stick around. What else do you have? How about $14.99? That's the price of a Windows 8 Pro upgrade from Windows 7 for anyone who purchases a new PC between June 2, 2012, and Jan. 31, 2013.

To get the cut-rate upgrade, PC buyers must register at the Windows Upgrade Offer site.

Thanks, but that doesn't work for me. How much for my best deal? For most Windows users, the $39.99 Windows 8 upgrade, which Microsoft will kick off Oct. 26 and offer through Jan. 31, 2013, will be the most economical.

First announced July 2, the upgrade -- from XP, Vista or Windows 7 to Windows 8 Pro -- will be available only as a download at that price. It's unclear if Microsoft will open registrations or pre-orders for the download before Oct. 26, but it definitely will go live on Windows.com that Friday.

At Windows.com, look for something called "Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant," a tool that checks your PC to ensure it will run the OS, takes your order, then kicks off the download and installation process.

I want something I can hold in my hands. How much for an upgrade on DVD? Microsoft will sell you one of those for Windows 8 Pro at the discounted price of $69.99.

From the hints on Newegg.com, one of the online retailers also selling the SKU, or "stock-keeping unit," the price for a Windows 8 Pro upgrade on physical media will jump to $199.99 after Jan. 31, 2013.

In other words, just like the $39.99 online upgrade offer, you should strike quickly.

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