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MS WinME ‘promotional’ deal is a disguised price hike

And not a particularly well disguised one, either...

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Yesterday Microsoft revealed the price of the Windows ME upgrade, happily trumpeting that its "promotional" price of $59.95 "makes it affordable for Windows 98 and Windows 98 Second Edition customers to stay current with the latest consumer operating system." It's a great deal, said Microsoft, and by a remarkable coincidence several stories alleging that WinME had been priced low appeared across the Web.

We were particularly taken by a bijou opinionette piece by a Gartner analyst who should know better. The "promotional" $59.95 will be for an unspecified but limited period, after which it will "revert" to $109, which is the current price for the Windows 98 SE and Windows 95 upgrades (bizarrely, the latter is still listed at shop.microsoft.com).

But if you cast your mind back to around a year ago, when Win98 SE came out, don't you remember a certain amount of confusion with service packs, upgrades that were a lot cheaper, even upgrades that were free? Well you should. If you look here, you'll find that Microsoft is still offering Win98 users the opportunity to upgrade to SE for $19.95.

Similar prices were prevalent in various other parts of the world, and while Microsoft UK did give away the SE upgrade to a few early applicants, later ones got hit with "media costs" that mysteriously came to around that price too.

But anyway, last time around, Microsoft put out a new OS, SE, at the same time as the service pack, and it really looked a lot like a service pack. The whole thing was a mess, and the company wound up only being able to charge Monopoly (we use the term advisedly) money for it. This time around, the WinME upgrade from the previous version still looks pretty much like a service pack, and our friend the Gartner analyst sagely observes that the reason the price is "lower" is because there's actually not a lot new there.

It's even pretty well possible to ugrade Win98 to WinME functionality for free, if you work your way systematically through the downloads and service packs. But if you actually buy it it's not free, it's not cheaper, it's more expensive - if you miss the "limited time" promotion, upgrading from SE to WinME will be five times more expensive than moving from 98 to SE. But that's not what the press release and a number of pubs say, is it? ®

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