Is Microsoft planning to scrap retail versions of forthcoming Windows 8?

13 Jul 2012

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Microsoft is reportedly planning to eschew retail editions of Windows 8 and will instead provide the operating system as an upgrade or include OEM versions within new computers.

According to the Windows Weekly show on Twit.tv, Microsoft is preparing to completely change how it distributes and sells its software.

Both Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott said they had heard from sources that Microsoft is planning to dispense with the retail versions of future Windows products.

“There will be no retail full versions of Windows 8, only upgrades,” Thurrott proclaimed on the online video show.

Thurrott pointed out that Microsoft has so far revealed only the special promotional price for the upgrade path for users running XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for US$40 from Windows.com.

So far actual upgrade prices for other versions of Windows have not been revealed.

OEM versions of the software – which typically come without 90 days of customer support – were available either bundled into new computers or came in system build versions.

The new paradigm for buying computer software

What is interesting about this is it mirrors Apple’s strategy with OS X Lion and the forthcoming Mountain Lion, whereby for €23.99 users can download their new OS from the Mac App Store and avoid the added costs of packaging that bulk up the price.

The logical progression here is that because the price of the software is less and the convenience of getting the software is enhanced, users are more likely to upgrade to new versions more seamlessly and potentially other apps, too.

Another bonus by making the upgrade path an online process is it cuts down on the likelihood of piracy, a major headache costing Microsoft and other software makers millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Clearly the Windows 8 experience will be an apps-driven experience. If all software users buy their software this way – most smartphone users already do – then surely the notion of buying physically packaged software in a store is becoming redundant?

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com