Vista, Office 2007 coupons worth a second look

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Redmond (WA) - Many computer buyers will have a Déjà vu experience when shopping for a new computer this Christmas season. Microsoft is, once again, offering an upgrade coupon for its operating system: Vista won't arrive in time for the holidays, so Microsoft company tries to lure customers with seemingly free Vista upgrades. Before you buy, take a look at the fine print.

See the preview of Windows Vista ...

Microsoft has some experience in playing the coupon game. We have seen similar promotions before, especially with Windows 95 about a decade ago and most recently, with Windows XP. This time around, there is an additional motivation to run a convincing upgrade coupon program: Originally planned for a September or October release, Vista will not be introduced until after the holidays - and miss the year's most important shopping season.

In that view, an aggressive coupon upgrade program, basically a strategy to lock in computer buyers into acquiring the new operating system, is not very surprising. For example, Microsoft said that ""is working with participating computer manufacturers and system builders that plan to sell PCs loaded with Windows XP or pre-installed with 2003 Microsoft Office software to make the Express Upgrade to Windows Vista and Microsoft Office Technology Guarantee programs available to consumers and small businesses from Oct. 26, 2006, through March 15, 2007.""

Since the computer world does not only exist out of large PC builders, the company said that it is also working ""with participating smaller PC makers, known as system builders, to provide customers with upgrade discount coupons for Windows Vista with the purchase of a qualifying Windows Vista Capable PC."" However, there are a few limitations to that program - limitations that could not only be disappointing to some buyers, but potentially expensive as well.

According to Microsoft, free upgrades in the U.S. will only work between very specific versions of Windows. The fact that Vista will be offered in more versions than XP, will bring a tight upgrade plan: Large vendors are expected to upgrade XP Home to Vista Home Basic, MCE to Vista Home Premium, XP Pro and Tablet upgrade to Vista Business and XP Professional x64 Edition to Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Business 64. Microsoft said that the upgrades will be ""offered for a nominal fee."" That fee can vary, depending on the system builder. Gateway, for example, already announced that it will provide the Home-Basic upgrade for free. Lenovo, however, told us that it will charge users $45 for this very specific upgrade.

But what happens, if a user wants to upgrade - especially from the XP Home to the fancy Aero Glass interface, which could turn out to be one of the major factors driving users to consider Vista? If your new PC runs XP Home - and many consumer PCs today do - the necessary Premium upgrade is also available - but only for an extra fee. Gateway confirmed to TG Daily that there will be $75 charge, ""per Microsoft's guidelines.""

In the case of smaller system builders, the scenario could get a bit more complicated. Any Vista upgrade from XP Home could cost extra, if the manufacture does not cover the coupon cost: Microsoft said that ""upgrades from Windows XP Home Edition to Windows Vista Home Basic and to Windows Vista Home Premium will be offered at a 50 percent discount from the boxed product upgrade price, plus the cost of shipping and handling."" In that case, the Vista upgrade will cost at least $50 (50% of the $100 boxed retail price of Vista Home Basic Upgrade). Aero Glass eye-candy will cost $80 (50% of the $160 boxed retail price of Vista Home Basic Upgrade).

In the end, the free upgrade may not be so free. Some users may question the value of a program in which they pay the regular price for the XP Home operating system included with their PC and another $45 for the ""free"" upgrade.

If you are buying a computer this holiday season, a second look at the Vista versions being offered by Microsoft and the upgrade program offered by your system builder may be worth the equivalent of an extra present for your spouse or kid.