After years of anticipation and over a year of beta testing, Microsoft has finally released its latest operating system, Windows 8. A midnight launch at Harvey Norman's flagship Alexandria store saw retail magnate Gerry Harvey sell the first copy in the country, and a launch at Sydney's Hordern Pavilion this morning showed off the new OS to media.
At Microsoft's Australian launch of Windows 8, three retail prices were announced. Until the end of January 2013, introductory upgrade pricing means anyone with a computer with Windows 7, Vista or XP can download and install Windows 8 Pro for $39.99. If you bought your computer after the start of June this year, the price drops to $14.99.
If you want a physical copy of the Windows 8 Pro install, you can buy a DVD for $69.99 from a local retailer like Harvey Norman or Dick Smith Electronics. Prices are already dropping on the DVD upgrade; Officeworks is selling it for under $49. Microsoft says you can also buy the DVD from its website, but it's not yet listed.
However, none of these options are appropriate for anyone wanting to install Windows 8 (either the basic version, or the enthusiast-level Pro) on a PC that doesn't already run a previous version of Windows. At the launch, Microsoft would not quote a price for a download or DVD that could be installed on a completely blank, fresh, clean, brand new system.
The language used in Microsoft's press release is also a little confusing: the retail DVD is referred to as a "Full Packed Product", but the only reference to it being an upgrade-only version is in a sentence that says "consumers can also upgrade their existing PCs and laptops". The upgrade version does allow users to start afresh and install a clean version of Window 8 Pro (as opposed to maintaining existing settings and accounts), but it still requires a copy of Windows to be on the computer in the first place.
All of this seems to leave anyone who wants to build their own PC, or upgrade from a Linux system or a Mac OS X machine with Boot Camp, or anyone intending to run a Windows 8 virtual machine, in the lurch.
However, despite Microsoft's vague hinting to the contrary, it is actually possible to buy a copy of Windows 8 that you can install on a PC doesn't already have Windows 7/Vista/XP on it.
Specialist PC retailers like TechBuy, EYO, Scorpion Technology, and PC Case Gear are all offering Windows 8 'OEM' products in their online stores as of today. TechBuy has 32- and 64-bit versions of the basic Windows 8 and enthusiast-grade Windows 8 Pro in its online store, priced around $120 for the basic and $170 for the Pro software. According to price aggregator StaticIce, prices average between $90 and $120 for a standard copy of Windows 8 and between $150 and $170 for Windows 8 Pro.
OEM software isn't available in big-box computer stores like JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman or Bing Lee. It's restricted to smaller and more specialised computer stores, where custom-built computers are assembled.
OEM Windows products have existed for several years, and were only meant to be distributed with already-constructed PCs sold from specialist PC retailers. However, these rules were not strictly enforced and many retailers sold OEM copies of Windows XP, Vista and 7 to any consumer who was also buying another piece of computer hardware -- like a DVD drive, graphics card or motherboard.
PC World has been told by several computer retailers that it is possible to buy the Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 32- and 64-bit OEM DVDs alone, without purchasing any additional hardware. Microsoft's OEM rules have also changed to accommodate anyone building a PC from scratch in their home (not just huge Original Equipment Manufacturers like Samsung, Acer, Asus, or professional OEMs like computer stores), and anyone intending to use the software on an existing machine, as long as they're intending to use Windows 8 in a virtual machine.