Microsoft to raise some EU Windows 7 prices

Also extends 'Family Pack' to customers in U.K., Germany, France, other countries

Microsoft Corp. said today that it will raise prices for non-upgrade editions of Windows 7 sold in Europe starting Sept. 1.

But because most users will upgrade copies of Windows XP or Vista -- and those upgrade prices will remain unchanged -- or buy a new PC with Windows 7 already installed, only a minority will feel the extra pinch.

Also today, Microsoft announced that it will sell its multilicense "Family Pack" Windows 7 Home Premium upgrade to users in Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. for a limited time starting Oct. 22.

Windows 7's price jump is one of the side effects of Microsoft's decision last week to drop the "E" edition for European customers. In countries that use the euro, increases will range from €20 to €80; they will range between £30 and £70 in the U.K.

Three weeks ago, Microsoft ditched its plan, first announced in mid-June, to sell European customers Windows 7E, a version of the upcoming operating system that would omit Internet Explorer 8. The company instead came up with a plan to give Windows 7 users the ability to choose the Web browser they want to use. Although Microsoft has not gotten the green light from EU antitrust regulators that the so-called browser ballot screen scheme will be accepted, it was confident enough in its chances to back away from a Europe-only edition.

Windows 7E and the ballot screen are two concessions Microsoft has made this year in an attempt to prevent antitrust officials from levying fines or demanding more significant changes to the company's practice of bundling IE with Windows.

Because Windows 7E could only be offered in a so-called "full" version that required a clean install -- an in-place upgrade would have left IE on users' PCs -- Microsoft had planned to sell only those full, or non-upgrade, editions in Europe, but at the upgrade versions' prices.

That will change as of Sept. 1, Microsoft said today. "[This] means that we are now able to have an upgrade version of Windows 7 available in Europe at launch," said Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc in an entry on a company blog today. "Windows 7 retail boxes will be available in both Full and Upgrade versions via pre-orders through Microsoft online stores where available and our retail partners starting September 1 and at General Availability on October 22."

Unlike an upgrade of Windows, a "full" edition can be installed on a machine not running Microsoft's operating system.

After Sept. 1, prices for Windows 7 upgrades in the U.K. will be £79.99 for Home Premium, £189.99 for Professional and £199.99 for Ultimate. In other countries, prices will be €119.99 for Home Premium, €285 for Professional and €299 for Ultimate.

New prices for the "full" versions in the U.K. will be £149.99 (Home Premium), £219.99 (Professional) and £229.99 (Ultimate). Prices for the same editions in countries that use the euro will be €199.99 (Home Premium), €309 (Professional) and €319 (Ultimate).

Those prices take effect Sept. 1.

People who have already pre-ordered Windows 7E, and who continue to do so through Aug. 31, will receive the full versions, as originally promised, LeBlanc said.

Microsoft also added eight more countries to the list of those where it will sell a Family Pack starting Oct. 22, Windows 7's official on-sale date. The packs let buyers upgrade as many as three PCs from Windows XP or Vista to Windows 7 Home Premium.

LeBlanc tied the availability of a Family Pack in those eight European countries to the decision to kill Windows 7E. "So what changed to make this possible? Basically, the fact that we are now able to have an upgrade version of Windows 7 available at launch," LeBlanc said.

Late last month, Microsoft announced that it would sell the Family Pack to U.S. and Canadian customers.

As has been its practice, Microsoft set the prices of the European editions of the Family Pack at amounts that are much higher than U.S. prices when currency exchange rates are taken into account.

In the U.K., the three-license pack will go for £149.99, or $246.03 at current exchange rates; that's $96.04 more than the $149.99 U.S. price tag. Customers elsewhere in Europe will pay €149.99 for Family Pack, or $214.56 at today's exchange rate, for a $64.57 premium over the U.S. price.

Like in the U.S., however, the Family Pack can dramatically drive down the price of upgrading several machines for European users. In the U.K., the pack costs £92.98, which is less than the cost of three separate Home Premium upgrade licenses, while in the rest of Europe the savings comes to €209.98.

Microsoft has said that it will start taking pre-orders for Family Pack Oct. 18. The company has declined to specify how long the limited time offer will run or, if it's pegged to unit sales, at what point Microsoft will stop selling Family Pack.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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