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FAQ: Microsoft offers cheapest-ever Windows upgrade

Who's eligible for Windows 8 upgrade, how to do a clean install, getting Media Center for free

July 5, 2012 06:48 AM ET

Computerworld - On Monday, Microsoft announced a record low price for the upcoming Windows 8, telling customers that they could upgrade their PCs -- even aged machines running Windows XP -- for just $39.99 later this year.

But almost as soon as Microsoft posted the announcement on one of its blogs, the questions started flooding in. Where will I get it? Do I pay just once for all my PCs, like Apple's offering Mac users this summer? Do we get the Start button back?

Microsoft answered some of those questions in its blog, tackled others in replies to the hundreds of comments there and ignored a few entirely.

We take a stab at them all.

Where do I get it? From the website, as a download.

Or if you're willing to shell out 75% more, you can pick up a shrink-wrapped box with a DVD inside from a local retail outlet or online seller. That might be the way to go if you use a dial-up connection to the Internet, or your ISP aggressively meters your usage.

What do I get? Windows 8 Pro, the pricier and more feature-packed of the two editions that Microsoft will be selling later this year at retail.

While Windows 8 -- that's the name of the de facto consumer edition -- and Windows 8 Pro share a slew of features, the latter includes several that appeal to small businesses, such as full-disk encryption, or to customers who want to use their home PCs to connect to their company's network.

Why Windows 8 Pro We don't know, and Microsoft's not saying.

But the upper-end edition is also the one that Microsoft will serve customers through its Windows Upgrade Offer (not to be confused with the new $40 deal rolled out this week). That's the program that gives buyers of new Windows 7 PCs a $14.99 upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, a move Microsoft regularly makes as a new version looms to keep people buying hardware.

How do I know if my PC is up for the upgrade? Microsoft will tell you when you run the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant on the website when it goes live later this year.

The assistant snoops through the PC, verifying that you have Windows already installed and deciding if the hardware meets the system requirements. It will tell you if you're good to go, point out possible problems you that could prevent an upgrade -- giving you a chance, for instance, to update a particular component -- and spells out omissions that may limit what you can do with Windows 8.

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