For the last few months, I’ve been awaiting the Windows 8 pricing announcement with equal parts excitement and trepidation. Windows 8 represents the biggest change to Microsoft’s most recognizable brand since, well, pretty much ever. The problem is that, historically, copies of Windows have been a bit too pricey for the average consumer. Granted, the vast majority of people never upgrade the OS on their computers, instead opting to simply wait until they need a new PC with the OS preinstalled, but enthusiasts do upgrade their computers and those of their family and friends. Unfortunately, even the special upgrade pricing is just too darn expensive. Who can afford to pay a suggested price of $120 per PC for an upgrade to Windows 7 Home Premium, let alone $200 for Windows 7 Professional? And don’t even think about looking at a full copy of the OS, as that will run you a sticker-shocking $300 (although Amazon actually sells it for $250).

That’s why, for the last few months, I have been hoping that Microsoft would sell Windows 8 at the sub-$50 price range. Believe it or not, that is exactly what is happening. On Monday, Microsoft announced that it plans to sell upgrade copies of Windows 8 Pro for just $39.99 between the launch of the OS this fall and January 31, 2013. This is in addition to the $14.99 pricing that anyone who purchases a new Windows 7 PC will get. Giving the best publicly available version of Windows 8 to consumers at such a low price is a smart move on Microsoft’s part because it makes it simple and affordable for just about anyone running Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 in 131 markets to upgrade to Windows 8. What’s more, Microsoft has decided to give Windows Media Center away as a free optional download, rather than as part of a premium package.

This price point is almost, dare I say it, Apple-like. Apple’s OS updates usually aren’t nearly as massive as Windows 8, but consumers don’t care about that. They care about the end cost, and this limited time offer hits the spot. Microsoft has yet to reveal the actual retail cost of Windows 8, but it’s safe to say that anyone who truly wants to upgrade their OS will do so before the January 31, 2013 deadline. After that, Windows 8 purchases will most likely be destined for new PCs being built by enthusiasts – or those who are really good at procrastinating. This isn’t the first time that Microsoft has offered a copy of Windows at a low cost – Windows 7 was sold to students for just $30 – but it’s certainly a good deal that will be available to everyone, rather than a limited segment of the market.

With the pricing situation out of the way, the only question left is whether you’ll be upgrading your existing hardware to Windows 8, picking up a new PC (like the Surface), or sticking with what you have. I know I’ll be doing two of the three.

[Windows Team Blog]