FAQ: The ins and out of Windows 8 pricing

What's it cost to whom and for what

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The $30 surcharge for a DVD may seem steep, but Microsoft has actually done a little bit better by customers than rival Apple: In 2011, Apple sold a USB drive with OS X 10.7, also known as Lion, for $39 more than the download price. Apple didn't even bother to reprise the offer this year for Mountain Lion.

[Note: The Windows 8 Pro online upgrade lets you create a bootable installation DVD or USB drive, so unless you have a very slow Internet connection and want the media to save hours of dial-up agony, that's a less expensive way to get a DVD.]

I run Windows in a virtual machine (VM) on my Mac. What's the damage? Looks like $99.99 for Windows 8, $139.99 for Windows 8 Pro, is the cheapest bet for now.

Those are Newegg.com's pre-sale prices for what Microsoft is now calling "System Builder" -- formerly known as "OEM" -- an edition aimed at small-scale or homebrew PC makers, as well as users who want to run the OS in a virtual machine or in a dual-boot setup on a Mac or PC.

System Builder includes a license that allows for installation in a virtual environment, but offers one-time-use only. "We grant you the right to install [Windows 8] ... as the operating system on a computer that you build for your personal use, or as an additional operating system running on a local virtual machine or a separate partition," states the end-user license agreement (EULA) we've seen. "If you want to use the software on more than one virtual computer, you must obtain separate copies of the software and a separate license for each copy."

I already run older Windows in several virtual machines. How much do I pay? For each VM you upgrade -- up to a max of five per person -- you pay $39.99 to migrate to Windows 8 Pro from XP, Vista or Windows 7 through Jan. 31, 2013.

You upgrade the VMs (or partitions, like a second boot partition on a PC, or Boot Camp on OS X) the same way someone upgrades a physical machine: by running the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant on Windows.com.

Any chance that the System Builder SKUs will fall in price after Oct. 26? We don't think so.

The list prices for the Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional System Builder equivalents are $128 and $179, respectively, according to Amazon. Not surprisingly, Amazon's prices are less: $92 and $128, or close to the Windows 8 System Builder prices on Newegg.

In other words, unless Microsoft drastically reduces the list price of System Builder, the numbers on Newegg are probably the discounted prices.

How much to upgrade a new Windows 8 system to Windows 8 Pro? $69.99 during the discount stretch.

Microsoft's calling this the "Windows 8 Pro Pack;" It consists of an activation code that turns Windows 8 into Windows 8 Pro. The Pro Pack is analogous to the in-place upgrades the company touted as "Anytime Upgrades" for Windows 7.

Newegg said the Pro Pack's $69.99 price was a $30 savings over the regular price of $99.99, with the latter presumably the upgrade's eventual list price. If so, that's a $10 increase over the Windows 7 Home Premium Anytime Upgrade to Windows 7 Professional, which costs $89.99.

It may be cheaper to buy the new PC with Windows 8 Pro already installed, if the option's offered. Sony, for example, charges an additional $50 to bump up a pre-ordered Windows 8 notebook to Windows 8 Pro. (Dell, on the other hand, adds the same $70 as the price for the Windows 8 Pro Pack to juice a Windows 8 machine to Windows 8 Pro.)

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