By offering users of Windows 7, XP and Vista discounts to upgrade to Windows 8, Microsoft is putting itself in a position to reap both benefits and criticism in the consumer operating system market.
Giving PC owners an incentive to put Windows 8 on their machines helps Microsoft because, if they upgrade, they will be less likely to switch to a competing platform such as Apple's Mac OS.
However, because Windows 8's main innovation is its Metro interface, designed with touchscreens in mind, consumers who upgrade now could be disappointed if their machine can't take advantage of the new functionality.
In the past month, Microsoft has announced two offers for consumers to upgrade existing PCs to the new OS, which is expected to ship before the end of the year.
"The low-cost upgrade to Windows 8 is a wise strategy for Microsoft. The cost of upgrading is the main reason people stay on outdated versions of Windows," said David Johnson, a Forrester Research analyst.
The offers show that Microsoft is finally beginning to understand the strategic cost of having huge numbers of consumers on old versions of Windows, he said via email. Windows XP, for example, first shipped in 2001.
"Being forced by their employers to work on Windows XP has been driving people toward Macs and tablets," Johnson said. "Microsoft's future viability depends on how fast it can get new value in the hands of users. A high cost of upgrading has been slowing them down."
However, the upgrade incentives can be a double-edged sword, because touchscreens, touchpads and mice that support gestures are important to providing a good experience with Windows 8, said Michael Silver, a Gartner analyst.
"Most PCs that will really make Windows 8 work well won't ship until the OS does. People upgrading older PCs is actually a risk for Microsoft because they may not be as happy as users that have new PCs tuned for Windows 8," Silver said. "Users that upgrade should ensure they have either a touchscreen or a touchpad or touch mouse that supports gestures in Windows 8."