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Microsoft's launch of its Windows 8 later this year may be the most important product launch in the company's history. Seeking to compete in a world where the desktop is no longer king, the Redmond software giant has performed massive reconstructive surgery on its operating system in an effort to provide for a commercially-viable touch-first experience.
Change may be a necessity for Microsoft and its operating system, but change this significant rarely comes easy. Despite the fact that the company's Windows 8 effort may be its greatest in many years, there are plenty who believe the new operating system is a disaster in the making.
But the question remains: will consumers embrace Windows 8, or will they cling to Windows 7 as many clinged to XP when Vista was unveiled?
Microsoft has a lot riding on the answer to this question. Any launch of a new version of Windows is big for the company, but Windows 8 is even bigger. For Microsoft to compete in the burgeoning tablet market, a party it's arguably already fashionably late to, Windows 8 must succeed. And if the company is to build a strong developer ecosystem for its new OS, which includes for the first time an app store, Microsoft must have an audience to offer developers.
So what can Microsoft do to boost its chances of success? Yesterday, it tried to pull a rabbit out of a hat by announcing a special deal: PC owners running Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 will be able to purchase an upgrade copy of Windows 8 Pro for just $39.99.
The deal will be available to consumers in 131 countries at launch time, and will last until January 31, 2013. To take advantage of the offer, existing Windows users can purchase and download the upgrade from windows.com.
A Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant is supposed to make the process as smooth as possible, although users of older versions of Windows (like XP) will lose their settings as part of the upgrade process. Those users wanting a Windows 8 Pro CD can purchase one at the discounted price of $69.99.
In taking a page from Apple's playbook, it would appear that Microsoft is doing the right thing here. Pricing for upgrades in previous versions of Windows haven't exactly encouraged users to rush to upgrade.
The big question: will Microsoft also play it smart when it comes to pricing for OEMs?
Reports indicate that Microsoft's OEM pricing for a Windows RT license will be $85. If we assume that these reports are accurate, Microsoft would appear to be making a huge blunder that could cost it its ability to compete in the tablet space.
The bad news in that case for Microsoft: making a big splash in the tablet market is arguably going to be far more important than getting desktop users to immediately upgrade to Windows 8.