Microsoft’s big bet on Windows 8 evidently extends to its pricing scheme: the company plans on charging $39.99 for an upgrade from Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 to Windows 8 Pro. Those who opt for the upgrade will have the ability to download it, assisted by a Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant that checks whether the target PC is capable of running the new operating system. The alternative, apparently, involves buying a packaged DVD version of the Windows 8 Pro upgrade for $69.99. The DVD itself might serve as a handy drink coaster, but that’s probably not the reason for the price discrepancy between the downloadable and the real-world versions of the upgrade. Microsoft will run the upgrade promotion through January 31, 2013. Windows 8 itself will most likely arrive in the autumn, just ahead of the always-crucial holiday shopping season. Windows and the Cloud Windows 8 offers significant challenges for Microsoft. Windows 7 hit the market a mere three years ago, and any number of consumers and businesses seem perfectly happy with it; there isn’t the same negativity that attached itself to Windows Vista, which (fairly or unfairly) attracted a wave of criticisms over hardware requirements, software compatibility, and other issues. Moreover, the aging-but-sturdy Windows XP is still a presence in many homes and offices, although its market-share has been falling with the advent of Windows 7. So Windows 8 enters a marketplace that isn’t necessarily desperate for a new Windows operating system. In addition, that marketplace faces a significant challenge from tablets and other mobile devices, which are eclipsing desktops and laptops as the center of many peoples’ computing lives. Faced with these issues, Microsoft decided to redesign Windows. Instead of the traditional desktop interface, Windows 8’s Start screen is a set of colorful tiles linked to applications—a setup more conducive to tapping and swiping, if you’re on a touch-screen. Those who want the desktop can flip to it via a tile on the Start screen. Windows 8 also takes increased advantage of the cloud. Users can download apps from the built-in app store, keep their documents and media in an integrated SkyDrive, and access various social-media hubs from the Start screen. The Windows 8 upgrade’s $39.99 also seems like a swipe at Apple, which has traditionally priced its Mac OS X upgrades at a price far below that of Windows. Mac OS X has also integrated more cloud-based elements over its past few evolutions, including an App Store. Between that and the much more cloud-centric Chrome OS from Google, this fall could see an increase in the pitch of battle for the consumer cloud.   Image: Microsoft