Microsoft said on Friday that it would kick off a Windows 8 upgrade program tomorrow, giving buyers of new Windows 7 PCs the chance to grab a copy of the not-yet-released operating system for $15.
The upgrade program will run from June 2, 2012, to Jan. 31, 2013. People who buy a new computer with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate during that period will be able to purchase Windows 8 Pro, the higher-priced of the two global retail editions, for $14.99. The upgrade to Pro will be fulfilled on the same day that Windows 8 officially launches, likely in late October.
Microsoft will offer the deal to computer buyers in 131 markets, including the U.S. and Canada. A list of countries where the upgrade deal will be available has been posted on Microsoft's website.
The announcement came as no surprise.
Three weeks ago, news leaked of the deal when CNET, citing unnamed sources, said that the upgrade offer would launch in early summer, most likely around the time Microsoft delivered Windows 8 Release Preview. That sneak peak showed up on Microsoft's servers yesterday.
Several days later, Windows blogger Paul Thurrott chimed in, saying Microsoft would charge $15 for the upgrade.
The price is a break with tradition. In the run-up to both Vista in 2006 and Windows 7 in 2009, Microsoft and computer makers provided upgrades for either no cost or for a small fee. Details varied because the computer manufacturers, known as OEMs, delivered the upgrade.
Those deals were limited to corresponding editions: In other words, someone buying a PC running Windows Vista Home Premium could upgrade only to Windows 7 Home Premium.
This is the first time that Microsoft has offered a higher-level version to fulfill the upgrade.
On Friday, Microsoft took the upgrade program's website live -- it's one the company acquired last February -- and said customers must register there no later than Feb. 28, 2013, to get their copy of Windows 8 Pro.
The upgrade will be provided as a download, but consumers will be able to request an installation DVD for what the company called "additional fees" that may include shipping and handling, duties and taxes. There is a limit of five upgrades per customer, an attempt to weed out businesses who might try to take advantage of the deal rather than subscribe to expensive volume licensing contracts such as Software Assurance.
The company also again said it would roll out additional promotions in the coming months, hinting that it will repeat the 2009 pre-sales event where it sold Windows 7 upgrades for as much as 58% off list price.
Windows 8 does not yet have a set on-sale date. Although Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's top Windows executive, said yesterday that the OS is on track to make the holiday selling season, he did not reveal a specific date.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.