When Windows 8.1 goes on sale this fall, users who didn't already jump on the Windows 8 bandwagon will have to pony up cash and leap through some hoops to make the transition.
At retail, copies of Windows 8.1 (Windows.com download or store-bought DVD) will cost $119.99 for the base version and $199.99 for Pro. Both versions will go on sale Oct. 17 in the U.S. The Windows 8.1 Pro Pack, which upgrades a base Windows 8.1 install to the Pro version, will sell for $99.99.
Current Windows 8 users will still be able to download the update at no cost.
Gone are the boxed and downloadable upgrade versions of Windows that customarily allowed users to upgrade from older versions at reduced prices (relative to the full versions). Instead, all retail versions of Windows 8.1 are "full-version software," Microsoft spokesman Brandon LeBlanc wrote in a Sept. 17 blog post. He added the software "does not require a previous version of Windows in order to be installed." Current Windows 8 software packages are technically upgrade versions, he noted.
The change "allows more flexibility for customers in specific technical scenarios and is in response to feedback we've received," stated LeBlanc. Those scenarios include new PC builds and running Windows 8.1 in a virtual machine or in another drive partition.
Users hoping for a seamless upgrade to Windows 8.1 from Windows 7 or earlier editions should plan on spending some time transferring their apps and data. Under the new system, only files will make the transition from Windows 7 unscathed. Desktop applications, "including Microsoft Office," require re-installation.
Windows XP and Vista users face starting from scratch for all intents and purposes. LeBlanc warned that "files, settings and programs will not transfer," and therefore customers are advised to perform backups and "then reinstall their files, settings and programs." In a sign that the company is distancing itself from XP and Vista, he added that Windows 8.1 is "not designed or recommended for devices" running those versions.
Owners of XP and Vista era hardware aren't completely shut out, however. LeBlanc wrote that "consumers still wanting to upgrade from Windows XP or Windows Vista should buy the retail DVD instead of using the download and boot from the DVD to do a clean install of Windows 8.1."
In a separate blog post, the company announced the availability of Windows 8.1 Enterprise RTM for TechNet and MSDN subscribers and volume license customers with Software Assurance (SA) agreements. While pointing visitors to the Window 8.1 editions matrix, Erwin Visser, general manager of Windows commercial marketing at Microsoft, said the company encourages corporate IT departments to strongly consider the business-friendly features baked into Windows 8.1 Enterprise. That edition, he noted, "supports the premium features designed to address the mobile productivity, security, manageability and virtualization needs of enterprises."
Windows 8.1 Enterprise sports exclusive features aimed at helping IT managers better manage and secure their mobile Windows 8 devices in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environments. DirectAccess support simplifies access to corporate applications by eliminating the need for separate VPN software. OpenMDM support assures out-of-the-box compatibility with popular mobile-device management (MDM) platforms.
Security also gets a boost. Device encryption is a standard feature and Remote Business Data Removal allows organizations to delete corporate information without affecting personal data that may reside on the device.