In a merciful simplification of the available choices, Microsoft has discontinued selling separate upgrade and full price editions. Each Windows 8.1 has a full license that you can use to upgrade an installed Windows 7 instance if you want or can perform a clean install. A previous licensed version of Windows is not required.
Only two retail choices
When you go to the store, whether it is online or brick and mortar, you have two choices:
- Windows 8.1 (core) - $120
- Windows 8.1 Pro - $200
The Pro version has the corporate network features and support for Hyper-V virtualization.
Already have Windows 8
If you already have a Windows 8 computer, you will be able to upgrade to 8.1 for free. If you are like me and have installed the Windows 8.1 Preview, you will also get the retail version of 8.1 for free.
Having used Windows 8.1 Preview, I can fully endorse the upgrade from Windows 8. While the differences between each version are often subtle, they are noticeable and address some of most often cited annoyances associated with Windows 8 since its initial release. If you are already using Windows 8, the free upgrade to 8.1 is a no-brainer - you want it.
If you are using Windows 7 on a computer without a touchscreen, there is really no compelling reason to upgrade now. However, when buying or building a new PC, there is also no compelling reason not to install Windows 8.1 instead of Windows 7. Despite what you may have heard, once you reach the Windows 8 Desktop, there is really not much difference from a user perspective between 7 and 8.
Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.