Microsoft will offer Windows 8 upgrade as an online purchase and install, a fairly radical change from the company's traditional model of boxed software and discs.
"Buying boxed software is quickly becoming the exception rather than the rule," Christa St. Pierre, a member of the Windows Setup and Deployment team, wrote in a Nov. 21 posting on Microsoft's official "Building Windows 8" blog, "with more and more software being purchased online as broadband penetration increases and large-size media downloads become more common."
Windows 8 users, she added, will have the option of starting their operating-system setup online: "We actually -pre-key' the setup image that is downloaded to a unique user, which means that you don't have to type in the 25-digit product key when you install."
Unlike with Windows 7, where the upgrade process often involved multiple apps or features (including Upgrade Advisor, Setup and Windows Easy Transfer) and a trip to the local box store, Microsoft is concentrating on streamlining the Windows 8 upgrade into what St. Pierre described as "one fast and fluid experience."
That new setup experience includes a PC scan to determine compatibility ("If an application or device ran on Windows 7, it should run on Windows 8, too"), followed by the actual Windows 8 download. After that, the user will then have a choice to continue installation, or else install the operating system on another partition.
Those upgrading from Windows 7 will have the ability to keep their applications, Windows settings and user accounts and files. Those with Windows Vista can port over their Windows settings, along with their user accounts and files. Windows XP users will only have the option of carrying user accounts and files into Windows 8.
Microsoft has offered a steady stream of updates about Windows 8 over the past few months. Most recently, the "Building Windows 8" blog detailed the Windows team's efforts to refine Windows Update to prove less annoying to those users who hate to constantly restart.
In a bid to capture the tablet market, Windows 8 offers a "Metro" interface with touch-optimized, app-connected tiles, paired to a more traditional desktop interface. Users have the ability to flip seamlessly between the two. By virtue of that bifurcated system, Microsoft hopes to challenge the iPad and other competitors in the tablet arena, while also appealing to the base of current users who don't necessarily want radical change.