First, Microsoft will return Windows 8 pricing to prices in-line with previous versions of Windows. That means most Windows pricing per-computer will jump over one hundred dollars tomorrow. You can still purchase a digital copy of Windows 8 Pro upgrade today for $39.99 from Microsoft.com.
Second, Microsoft is currently offering their Media Center Pack for Windows 8 Professional for free, but that offer also ends today. Specifically, Microsoft has said that Media Center product keys obtained from Microsoft.com will expire after today. Even if obtained before January 31, the Microsoft activation server will not honor they keys after today.
The Media Center free promotional offer stemmed from criticism about how Microsoft sold Windows. Microsoft originally intended to offer Media Center Pro Pack as a $14.99 add-on, atop Windows 8 Professional. Microsoft cited the lack of demand for MPEG-2 decoding outside of DVD viewing and DVR recording, both of which are central features of Windows Media Center. However, retail copies of Windows 8 Professional lacked the Media Center Pro Pack, whereas the $39.99 digital download offering from Microsoft’s web site included the Media Center Pro Pack. This made the more-expensive retail copies of Windows 8 Professional upgrades inferior to the digital download version from Microsoft.
After tomorrow, the feature pack for Media Center will still be available for any Windows 8 Professional user, it will simply cost $9.99. It is unclear if people who reinstall Windows 8 Professional after January 31 will be able to use their previously-activated free feature pack code for Media Center.
It is worth noting that Microsoft, despite not clarifying that the upgrade discs are indeed upgrade discs, cannot be used for new installations. That means bare metal and Macintosh computers must purchase an OEM version of Windows 8 or Windows 8 Professional. The free Media Center offer is valid on OEM copies of Windows 8 Professional as well, so you can still purchase a retail copy of those discs from a brick-and-mortar store such as Fry’s Electronics or Micro Center. If neither are in your area, you may want to call local PC stores to see if they will sell you an OEM copy today.
Microsoft’s Windows 8 Pro upgrade offer, including the digital download for $39.99, applies to all versions of Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. While we object to the onerous, dangerous, anti-competitive Walled Garden around Windows 8′s new APIs (formerly Metro, aka Windows 8 Store apps), the offering is advantageous for most older Windows users. Windows 8 tends to improve performance on most Windows XP and Windows Vista machines still in-use today, that meet the Windows 8 system requirements.
While you might want to pick up a spare copy for future use, we’d advise against hoarding product keys. Microsoft can always at a later date tinker once again with Windows pricing.
Windows 8 Professional owners can request a free Media Center Feature Pack key from this page.
Clarification: For those that purchased a Windows 7 PC last fall or during the holidays, Microsoft is continuing their $14.99 Windows 8 Pro upgrade offer for recently-purchased Windows 7 PCs through the end of Feburary.