Windows Vista — Upgrade It Anytime

Microsoft testers are getting an early look at new functionality designed to allow users to upgrade to more powerful — and, presumably, more expensive — versions of Vista.

Microsoft is testing a new Windows upgrade mechanism, known as Windows Anytime Upgrade. A first iteration of the technology is integrated into the February Community Technology Preview (CTP) releases of Vista that went to testers starting last week.

Windows Anytime Upgrade licenses will be sold by Microsoft's Solution Provider partners and PC makers, but not directly by Microsoft, according to information featured on the February CTP.

According to Vista Help File information that Microsoft posted, and subsequently pulled, from its Web site in mid-February: "If you want more features in Windows Vista, you can upgrade to another version. You can either buy a separate upgrade disc at a retail store or use Windows Anytime Upgrade to buy the upgrade online, and then use your Windows Anytime Upgrade disc or the Windows installation disc to complete the process.

"You can upgrade from Windows Vista Home Basic to either Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Ultimate. If you have Windows Vista Business, you can upgrade to Windows Vista Ultimate," the Microsoft information page said.

Windows Anytime Upgrade, according to a splash screen that is part of the February CTP, will work in the following way.

Users will be required to purchase online from one of its partners' Web sites a Windows Vista Upgrade license. Next, they will be directed to download and install that license. Finally, they will be required to insert their original Vista CD or DVD in order to install the upgrade.

Microsoft recently announced its planned Vista version line up. There will be six core Vista versions, company officials said: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate, Business and Enterprise.

The Enterprise SKU will be available to Microsoft volume-license customers only. But given that there will be both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of all of these variants (except Starter, which will be 32-bit only), plus two special releases of Windows Vista without Media Player integrated, as required by the European Commission antitrust regulators, there are more than a dozen different Windows SKUs in the pipeline.

In January, Jim Allchin, Co-President of Microsoft's Platform Products & Services Division, said not to expect Microsoft to deliver all of its Windows Vista versions, or SKUs on a single CD. While that was an admirable goal, Allchin said, Microsoft didn't have sufficient time to pull off such a feat if it were to get Windows Vista out the door this year.

Allchin mentioned the company had an alternative plan in mind, called Vista Anytime Upgrade, about which he declined to say more.

Microsoft has made no bones about its intention to encourage Windows users to upgrade to higher-end, "premium" versions of Windows in order to continue to fill the Windows coffers. Going forward, the company's focus is to get customers to buy at a higher price point, rather than upping the base price of Windows.

Microsoft has yet to release Windows Vista pricing information. It will likely do so closer to the actual release of the product, which is expected some time this fall.

Testers have been dabbling with the Anytime Upgrade technology for a couple of weeks now.

The Windows Vista Buzz site described Windows Anytime Upgrade as "a program that will allow users who have purchased one version of Vista [to] upgrade anytime to a more expensive and feature-filled version."

According to the Buzz, "Users purchase upgrades from a Website and run the upgrade from the install disk."

Windows watcher Ed Bott noted that "you don't need to go to the store and purchase a new shrink-wrapped box to upgrade; all you have to do is go to Control Panel and run the Windows Anytime Upgrade program.."

The WikiPedia entry for Windows Vista already has been updated to include information on Windows Anytime Upgrade.

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