Microsoft has confirmed initial pricing for upgrades to Windows 8, setting the bar at $39.99 or equivalent in local currency across 131 markets - making it the cheapest at-launch upgrade offer in years.

Starting at general availability and running through 31st January 2013, the time-limited upgrade offer is good for users on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7, and provides access to the full Windows 8 Pro package rather than the cut-down Windows 8 release. Even better, Windows Media Centre will be included as an optional but cost-free install even after the upgrade has taken place - but will be a paid-for add-on once the offer has expired.

The low-price upgrade offer will be available through the Windows.com website, with the operating system being downloaded for immediate installation or used to create a bootable USB or ISO install image. Those who prefer physical media can opt for an official backup DVD for $15, Microsoft has confirmed.

'We believe that your upgrade experience in Windows 8 will be a breeze by offering a faster experience, a single upgrade path, and compatibility from prior versions of Windows,' Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc claimed in a statement which handily overlooks the fact that upgrades from Windows XP won't migrate any programs or settings. 'We've continued to listen to our customers and have expanded the ability to download to over 100 countries and 37 languages. We have simplified the Windows upgrade experience with the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant which supports you during your upgrade with everything from selecting your language to pausing your download to built-in compatibility checks - it’s seamless. And if you're an enthusiast you will have the flexibility to download and control how you upgrade.'

Although the digital distribution upgrade is remarkably cheap, the news isn't so good for those on slower connections or who otherwise prefer to shop in a bricks-and-mortar establishment: the boxed copy of Windows 8 Pro Upgrade will cost $69.99.

LeBlanc also announced that system builders - including end-users building PCs for personal use, as well as those doing so as a business - will qualify for Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro System Builder editions at a reduced price. This special semi-OEM edition will also be made available to those installing Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro on a dedicated partition of an existing machine for dual-boot purposes, or installing the software in a virtual machine environment. Pricing for the System Builder editions has not yet been confirmed.
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