Microsoft will kick off a Windows 8 upgrade program for buyers of Windows 7 PCs in early June, according to a report.
But unlike past deals, this one may come with a price tag.
The program will, said CNET yesterday, provide a discounted upgrade to Windows 8 to anyone who purchases a new Windows 7-powered PC between June 2012 and January 2013.
Citing unnamed sources, CNET said that the upgrade offer would let buyers of Windows 7 systems purchase Windows 8 Pro -- the highest-priced edition that will be sold at retail -- for an undisclosed price.
The offer will debut at the same time that Microsoft launches Windows 8 Release Preview, which the company has pegged to the first week of June. The most likely date is June 5, assuming Microsoft follows the same schedule it used in 2009 to deliver Windows 7's release candidate.
Both deals provided the newer operating system for either no cost or for a small fee. Details varied, as computer makers actually fulfilled the offer, with some charging shipping and handling fees while others gave the upgrade to earlier buyers gratis.
Stephen Baker, a retail software analyst for the NPD Group, said that it probably doesn't matter whether the Windows 8 upgrade is free or comes with an attached fee.
"Consumers have short memories," Baker said in an email reply to questions Friday. "Even I don't remember exactly what happened last time, [so] how could a consumer remember? They will take the upgrade and it if suits their needs they will use it. If not, they will not."
Microsoft has already laid the groundwork for a Windows 8 upgrade program: A URL seen in a screenshot that accompanied the CNET story -- windowsupgradeoffer.com -- was recently registered by Microsoft. A WHOIS search for that domain showed it was activated by Microsoft on Feb. 22, 2012.
Browsing to the URL now redirects the user to a Bing results page that would normally appear if the search phrase "windowsupgradeoffer" had been used. Bing is Microsoft's search engine.
Upgrade programs are important to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), and thus to Microsoft, said Baker. Microsoft generates the bulk of its Windows revenue from selling licenses to OEMs such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, so if PC sales stall, so do Microsoft's income.
That's doubly true during the summer, when back-to-school sales usually boost PC numbers.