Leaker claims only some Windows 8.1 users will get free Windows 9 upgrades

For those currently running Windows 7, the upgrade will come with a price tag, according to tweets from "Wzor," a notorious spiller of Microsoft secrets.

Microsoft will offer some Windows 8.1 users a free upgrade to the next edition, tentatively labeled as Windows 9, a notorious spiller of the company's secrets said today.

According to Wzor, Windows 9 will be a free upgrade from some but not all copies of Windows 8.1. For those currently running Windows 7, the upgrade will come with a price tag. Wzor publicized the claims in a short series of tweets today.

But the free upgrade deal has a big caveat.

"The free upgrade to Windows 9 can be done only from a full retail version of Windows 8.1 ... the OEM version will be paid, same as before," Wzor wrote in one tweet, according to a Russian-to-English translation done for Computerworld by Sveta Surgay, a technical support analyst with IDG's corporate help desk.

Wzor's identity is unknown. In fact, it's unclear if the nickname is for an individual or a group.

By "OEM," Wzor meant the type of Windows license that comes pre-installed on a new personal computer. A "retail" license is one purchased after the fact, typically as an in-place upgrade from an earlier operating system, such as Windows 7.

Customers with Windows 7 PCs, for example, paid $40 for an in-place upgrade to Windows 8 before and for several months after the OS's October 2012 launch.

Although some upgrades from Windows 8.1 to Windows 9 will be free, those from Windows 7 -- and apparently from OEM licenses of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 -- will not be. "For upgrade path to Windows 9 for current Windows 7 users, Microsoft will be giving a special incentive pricing. Somewhere under $30," another Wzor tweet read.

The Windows 7-to-Windows 9 upgrades will be offered via the Windows Store, Wzor added. "There will be an offer to purchase a Windows 9 ESD (electronic software download) through the Microsoft Store for both retail and OEM versions of Windows 7," the leaker said in yet another message on Twitter.

Talk of how Microsoft will distribute the next edition of Windows -- which has been referenced using the code name "Threshold" as well as the preemptive, and presumptive, "Windows 9" -- has been circulating for months.

A widespread free upgrade would put Windows on equal footing with other OSes: Users have been trained to expect free operating system upgrades on their smartphones and tablets, and with Apple's move last year to give away OS X upgrades, those on Macs as well. Google also upgrades Chrome OS for free, and in May promised to support all Chromebooks for at least five years. Windows is the holdout.

Getting with the program becomes important if Microsoft wants a shot at the tablet market. OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), which have opted for the full Windows rather than the touch-only Windows RT, will require free or very low cost upgrades from Windows 8.1 for their extra-cheap tablets. No one will spend more than the tablet, or even a fraction of the purchase price, to upgrade the OS.

Earlier this month, Computerworld calculated that if Microsoft did offer free upgrades from Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 to Windows 9, it could push half of the installed base to the newest OS by the end of 2015. That estimate, however, was predicated on a free Windows 9 upgrade for all customers who had a device running Windows 8 or 8.1. However, Wzor's assertion that the free Windows 9 upgrades will be available only to those with retail copies of Windows 8.1 -- not for users who received Windows 8 or 8.1 pre-installed on their personal computers or tablets -- invalidates those forecasts.

Microsoft will host a news conference Tuesday in San Francisco, where it will reveal aspects of the new Windows that were designed primarily for corporate customers.

The event will not be webcast live.

It's possible, but not likely, that Microsoft will disclose upgrade paths and pricing for Windows 9 tomorrow. In the past, the company has kept those details to itself until closer to the actual ship date, noted Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner, in an interview today.

Most experts and pundits expect that Microsoft will ship the final version of Windows 9 in the first half of 2015.

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