Microsoft has confused retail resellers on the pricing and availability of its Windows 8 operating system, providing no specific details despite a major licensing change.
The company told attendees of its launch event in Sydney today that it would only sell upgrades of the software in retail stores - no boxed copies of the full OS would be available.
JB HiFi staff have also reported that Microsoft had only made upgrade versions available.
But representatives from Harvey Norman and Dick Smith told our sister publication CRN they were “definitely” selling full boxed versions of the software in their stores -- the Windows 8 Pro box for $58.
After checking out some of the websites for these major retailers, we swung by the local Dick Smith Electronics store at North Sydney, and asked for a boxed copy of Windows 8 Pro. After dropping the $58 and chatting with the very pleasant clerk about how cheap the new Windows was, we headed back to the office, and fired it up in the labs.
Our testing was done using a testbench witth the following specs - AMD A10-5800K APU,Gigabyte F2A85X-UP4 Motherboard, 4GB DDR3 and a Plextor M5 SSD. We ensured that the SSD in question was unformatted and straight out of the box from the distributor. We chose a clean install of Windows 8, typed in the included product key and the OS was installed in no time at all.
So far so good, there was no sign of any issues, and we were able to run Windows update and navigate the web. Live tiles began updating as they were supposed to, and it looked like online reports of the boxed copy working were correct.
Deciding to push our luck, we activated the operating system. This was the point where we first encountered problems – we were asked to re-enter our product key (a sure sign that something was up), and once we did this an error message popped up telling us that the software could only be used for upgrading, not clean installation.
Given the confusion from the launch, we suspected that this would be the case. It is also a cautionary tale that you can’t believe the reports that we are seeing about it working without a copy to upgrade from. As is the way with Windows 7, you’ll have to activate it at some point, and that is where the difference between OEM and these retail boxes comes into play.
Why is this the case?
During the launch, and in the press materials, Microsoft neglected to mention the licensing changes it has introduced with Windows 8.
Microsoft previously offered OEM licenses for systems builders, as well as retail upgrade licenses and full retail licenses.
Systems builder licenses are traditionally significantly cheaper than the full retail license, and previously weren’t available directly to end-users. With Windows 7 and prior, the OS was bundled onto hardware and sold via a reseller to the customer.
Microsoft now has done away with the full retail licenses -- meaning full boxed versions will no longer be available in stores -- and added an element to its systems builders licence that allows for personal use.
Microsoft refused to provide any official pricing or launch information on this version, but it is currently available on a number of online stores from upwards of $100 for the 32-bit, and over $150 for the 64-bit versions.
Ars Technica reported that the retail licenses now only covered simple upgrades. There appear to be no changes to its major OEM and Enterprise licenses, meaning no headaches for Microsoft resellers.
While we were undertaking our lab testing, CRN contacted Microsoft multiple times for comment and is yet to receive a response.