My friends have chided me for cheering on Bill Snyder's provocative suggestion to blow it up, Ballmer: Give away the Surface for free. Although I figure Snyder got the wrong Steve -- Sinofsky's most likely the one in the driver's seat -- and the proposal is obviously not realistic, I admire the sentiment. Microsoft's one huge advantage in coming out with its own Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT hardware is pricing. The lower the Steves can go, the more Metro's going to sizzle in the marketplace.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to read that Microsoft will sell online upgrades from Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 to Windows 8 for just $39.99. More than that, the upgrade isn't for the pedestrian version of Windows 8; that 40 bucks buys Windows 8 Pro with Windows Media Center -- the Big 8 Lebowski.
The analyses I've read seem to forget that Microsoft had a similar offer for upgrades to Windows 7. It still does, in fact. Right now you can buy a three-fer of Windows 7 Home Premium upgrades (the so-called Family Pack) on Amazon for less than $100.
The way I look at it, Windows 8 pricing isn't so much an inducement as a deterrent. If I had to spend $149 to upgrade my Windows 7 machines to Windows 8, I'd probably sit on Windows 7 until I couldn't stand it any longer, then go out and buy a new tablet. At $40, price is no longer a major stumbling block. In fact, for many people, it hardly enters into the equation.
While a $40 price tag doesn't exactly qualify as giving Windows away, it's putting a big crimp in one of the main arguments for avoiding Windows 8. It also creates an anticipation that Surface tablets -- and Windows 8 and Windows RT devices from other manufacturers -- may turn out very reasonably priced, too. We can hope.
What Microsoft hasn't emphasized (in spite of Brandon LeBlanc's blog post) is how upgrading has improved so much over the past three years. If you buy that Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade Family Pack right now, you can plan on spending most of a day -- for some, most of a weekend -- getting upgraded to a stable copy of Windows 7. Admittedly I'm biased, having performed hundreds of Windows 7 upgrades and getting burned to the nubs in many cases. I always recommend clean installs because in-place Windows 7 upgrades invariably cause problems, somewhere down the road. In spite of what people may tell you, going through a Windows 7 upgrade is not a click-once-and-forget-it exercise.
Windows 8's different -- really. Although we're all still working with beta, er, Release Preview versions of Windows 8 that are going to change significantly by RTM, every experience I've had tells me that the online upgrade from Windows 7 (any flavor) to Windows 8 Pro Media Player is slick as can be. (Upgrading from Vista or WinXP isn't so easy.) As long as you're working with a reasonably fast Internet connection, you literally have to click a few times, review the results of the upgrade advisor, worry a little bit, possibly chase some drivers, then sit back while Win8 does the rest. It, uh, just works.
That clears the two greatest hurdles for any Windows upgrade: price and rage-inducing inconvenience.
All that's left is the question of whether you'd rather be running Windows 8 or Windows 7. That's precisely the right question to ask.
This story, "Behind the $40 Windows 8 upgrade," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.