In a surprising move, Microsoft has somewhat reversed its stance on Windows Media Center in Windows 8. The original “Metro-style” application will still be absent from stock versions of Windows 8, but Microsoft no longer plans to charge an additional fee for it. This is good news for both general consumers and Media Center enthusiasts, as it means that DVD playback will still be supported on Windows 8 without the use of third-party software.

Based on Microsoft’s upgrade programs for Windows 8 – aimed at new PC owners and general consumers alike - and the Surface, it’s obvious that the software giant plans to market Windows 8 Pro, rather than the base version of Windows 8. In fact, at this point, one has to wonder why Microsoft is even offering two versions of Windows 8 to consumers at all. Pushing the superior version of the OS is a good thing, since Media Center is only available as an add-on if you have Windows 8 Pro. Furthermore, it means that most people will once again have access to DVD playback on Windows 8, even if it requires a quick download. Due to the increasing popularity of digital distribution and streaming media, Microsoft opted to remove support for DVD playback from Windows Media Player. As a result, Media Center is now the only way to watch DVDs on Windows 8 without third-party software.

When Microsoft originally announced that it was pulling Media Center out of the core Windows OS to eliminate redundancy with the Music and Video Metro-style apps, the company claimed that it would be sold separately to Windows 8 Pro customers through a Windows 8 Media Center Pack for an undetermined price “in line with marginal costs.” In a recent post on the Windows Team Blog, however, the company reversed its decision, stating that “You can add Windows Media Center for free through the ‘add features’ option within Windows 8 Pro after your upgrade.” The process of doing so is fairly simple, and you can already try it out for yourself in the Windows 8 Release Preview.

Charging for Windows Media Center would have been a mistake, so Microsoft made the right move. I don’t use Windows Media Center all that much anymore, but it’s nice to know that it’s still there if I need it – especially if I want to watch a DVD.

[Windows Team Blog]