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Microsoft, PC Industry Will Need Windows Upgrade Offer More Than Ever

As expected, Microsoft will offer those who buy a new PC in the coming months the ability to get a heavily discounted upgrade to Windows 8.

The news was reported by CNET earlier this month, with additional details, including the cost, trickling out in recent days. Our sources confirm that Microsoft will offer $15 Windows Pro 8 upgrades to those buying a new PC with Windows 7 Home Basic or higher.

Redmond has offered these kinds of coupons with the past several releases, so it is not a shocker.

But with Windows 8 coming this fall — possibly as late as November — and with current license sales slowing, and Microsoft losing share to both Macs and iPads, the upgrade program could be even more important this time around.

Redmond and the PC makers are hoping that the promise of a guaranteed and easy upgrade will convince back-to-school shoppers to stick with Windows, rather than head to the competition.

The upgrade program is important for another reason: Microsoft needs Windows 8 to get off to a fast start in order to convince developers to write new Metro-style apps that only run on Windows 8. Getting more Windows 7 users on the new operating system would help that cause.

A big change this time around is how the program will operate. In the past, Microsoft has been the driving force behind the cheap upgrades, but the company left it up to computer makers to handle the specific pricing, timing and fulfillment. With Windows 8, Microsoft will handle all of those items, sources say.

Microsoft declined to comment on its upgrade program plans.

The other piece of preparing for Windows 8 is what is taking place on the hardware side. Windows 8, with its Metro user interface, is tailor-made for touch devices, though it will also work with a keyboard and mouse.

So far, this summer’s laptop offerings are punched-up versions of the same PCs that have been on the market for months, with upgrades to Intel’s Ivy Bridge chip line, and PC makers all trying to put their stamp on the trend toward thinner, lighter laptops.

Lenovo has announced more consumer-friendly versions of its business-minded ThinkPad laptop. Hewlett-Packard, meanwhile, has expanded its Ultrabook line and has slapped the term “Sleekbooks” on another set of new laptops that fall into the ultra-thin-and-lightweight category but have innards that don’t meet Intel’s specifications for Ultrabooks. Sony’s new Ivy Bridge-equipped Vaio laptops will be made with lightweight materials, include larger displays, and offer optional accessories such as an extended battery.

But PC makers will clearly be gearing up for Windows 8 so that they can start pitching the new operating system as soon as it is ready.

This fall, some hardware makers will introduce convertible PCs that function as both tablets and laptops, as noted here, or will add things like touch sensors to existing displays, in order to bridge the two operating systems.

One company that has already announced a Windows 8 laptop is Lenovo. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January of this year, the China-based PC maker showed off the IdeaPad Yoga, a laptop with a 10-finger touchscreen and a full range of motion at the hinge so when fully folded it turns into a 13.3.-inch tablet.

Overall, one can expect a lot of Windows 8-ready machines to be part of the back-to-school lineups. But expect most PC makers to hold off on design overhauls for the Windows 8 launch.

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