Although Microsoft is on track to deliver Windows 7 for the holidays, the new operating system will miss the back-to-school buying season.
For that reason--and to prevent the stall in sales that can precede any new operating-system release--Microsoft has been working for months on the free-upgrade program it announced earlier Thursday.
Under the program, those who buy a PC with Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, or Ultimate will get a free upgrade to the comparable version of Windows 7, once it is released in October. Microsoft is hoping that will help juice PC sales a bit.
"With PC prices out there, there is probably no better time to buy a PC, especially for students," Brad Brooks, a Microsoft corporate vice president, said in an interview. Technically, the upgrade program runs through the end of January, since Microsoft knows that it will take that long for the Vista machines to work their way through the channel.
Although there had been speculation that Microsoft would charge PC makers for the upgrade rights, Vice President Brad Brooks said Microsoft decided to offer it free of charge. PC makers can still charge a shipping-and-handling fee, or another small fee, if they want.
"We are not going to charge them for it," Brooks said. "How they implement it is up to them."
Hewlett-Packard, for example, on Thursday said it will offer the upgrade free. After Windows 7 ships, it plans to give buyers of Vista PCs a disc with Windows 7, as well as a second disc that has utilities, drivers, and other software. Asus said it will offer the upgrade free in the United States, while customers elsewhere will have to pay a shipping and handling fee.
Acer (including its eMachines and Gateway brands), Fujitsu, Lenovo, and Toshiba are also taking part in the program, though it is not immediately clear if those companies are planning to charge a fee for the upgrade.
There are some changes in the logistics from the last time Microsoft did such a program. With the Vista technology guarantee, Microsoft had a hand in how the upgrades were managed. This time around, Microsoft says it is leaving things up to the PC makers.
"They felt they could handle it better and we agree," Brooks said. "They handle the images; they handle the process."
Things get tricky in Europe, though. Although Microsoft will offer the upgrade program, users will have to do a clean installation of the operating system to move to the comparable Windows 7 version, as Microsoft is offering only a browserless "E" version in Europe, in an effort to pre-empt regulatory action there.
Microsoft has said Windows 7 will arrive on new PCs and on retail shelves on October 22.