The penny has finally dropped on Windows 7 pricing here in Europe. The short version is that we're getting our own European version (Windows 7 E), of Microsoft's new operating system, at a selection of discount prices, depending on when you buy it.
Let's get one thing straight from the start: if you're in Europe, Microsoft has decreed you can't upgrade from your existing version of Windows to 7 E. You'll have to install 7 E from scratch, wiping out your current version and all your existing data.
Even though there's no upgrade version and you won't actually be upgrading, Microsoft has confused the issue by referring to the pricing as an 'upgrade price'. Confused? We don't blame you, as we certainly were. To make things clearer, we'll call it 'switching' to 7 E instead of 'upgrading'. Questions? Fire away!
I'm in Europe. What version of Windows will I get?
You'll get Windows 7 E: Windows 7 but without Internet Explorer.
Why no IE?
Microsoft has dropped IE from the OS in response to regulators' concerns over Microsoft's monopoly in the Web browser market. To make things more confusing, there's also a version called Windows 7 N that doesn't include Windows Media Player, for similar reasons. Apart from the missing programs, 7 E and 7 N are identical to the Windows 7 shipped to the rest of the world.
What about the different editions?
Like Vista, 7 E will come in a variety of different editions, aimed at different types of consumer and priced accordingly. These editions are: Home Basic, Home Premium, Starter, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. No matter what edition you go for, you will be getting 7 E.
I have Windows Vista on my current PC. Will I be able to upgrade?
No -- at least not in the software sense. This is where things get complicated because of the different uses of the word 'upgrade'. You will be able to switch to 7 E. But you won't do it by going through the traditional 'upgrade' process, which would install the new OS on top of your existing Windows installation.
Hang on... what?
It's that pesky word 'upgrade' that's causing the confusion. When we're talking about upgrading software, it usually means that you start with one version, you insert the upgrade disc and -- numerous cups of tea later -- your computer magically has the new and improved software, with your existing pictures, music, settings and programs still in place. But that's not how it's going to work with 7 E. Instead, you'll install 7 E from scratch, wiping your existing computer, in what's known as a clean install.
But that's terrible! What about my photos, my music and my settings?
Back them up. If you're not already backing up your data, you should be. By transferring all your pictures, music, email and so on to an external hard drive or to a Web-based storage service, they'll be available to you when you do switch to 7 E, and you can restore them onto your PC. Microsoft promises clear instructions on clean installing, while we'll be providing a more detailed look at your back-up options soon, so keep it Crave.
Looking at the glass as half full, it's actually a good thing to undertake a clean install. Sure, transferring your data is a pain in the proverbial even if you do know what you're doing, but a clean install is less likely to give you problems in the long run. And, besides, it's an opportunity to start from scratch and declutter your hard drive. Think of it as a spring-clean.
Okay, but what about my programs?
This is the real killer. Any programs you have installed on your PC will be wiped when you install 7 E. If you installed a program from a disc, just stick the disc in and reinstall it. If you've lost the disc, you're stuffed.
If you've downloaded an application from the Internet, you should be able to install it from the installer package if you have it backed up. If you paid for the app, just enter the installation key. If you've lost the key, you're stuffed. If the app only allows you to install it once, you're stuffed. You could try contacting the maker of the app, but, if it isn't forthcoming, then you're, well, you know. Basically, if you're not particularly organised and you're attached to your paid-for apps, Windows 7 may not be for you.
That sounds pretty lame. Is there an upside?
Yes, albeit a small one. Unlike the rest of the world, everybody in Europe gets to install 7 E on more than one machine, providing it's not running on more than one machine at a time, and we don't have to pay extra for the privilege, unlike our non-European cousins.
If 7 E doesn't have a browser, how do I get online?
Microsoft won't put IE into 7 E, but reckons the vast majority of PC vendors will include a copy of IE when you buy your new computer. We've asked Microsoft about this, and it says it's working with retailers and vendors. What that means is: at this stage no-one knows for sure what will happen.
Why does it all have to be so complicated?
Good question. Instead of coming up with a long-term technical response to regulatory issues, Microsoft has just thrown the browser out with the bath water -- and all in order to force 7 E into its global release date.
I was planning to buy a new PC soon. Where does this leave me?
Anyone buying a new PC with Vista installed, will get a free licence for 7 E. From 22 October, when Windows 7 launches, you'll be able to switch to 7 E without paying a penny to Microsoft.
Be warned, however, that this process will be arranged through the vendor that sold you the computer, so it won't be as simple as a disc arriving from Redmond on 22 October. The vendor may even charge to send the disc. Microsoft is currently working with vendors, who will have their own systems for organising the switch. HP, for example, requires customers to register their PC's details. Microsoft also envisages vendors and tech support companies offering to make the switch for you for a price. We reckon October will be a very good month for the IT industry.
Because we're so close to the launch of 7 E, there are less likely to be hardware issues -- fingers crossed -- with new computers when you do switch. 7 E is built on the same technology as Vista, but there may be compatibility issues with different manufacturers' hardware and software. Frankly, if you want to save yourself a headache, we'd suggest you wait until Windows 7 is released properly before buying a new PC, especially seeing as there's only four months left to go.
How much will I pay?
Not a lot -- if you buy a new PC with Vista on it between now and October, the 7 E disc itself is free, but you may have to pay postage and packing to get it.
£50 -- if you pre-order 7 E Home Premium between 15 July and 14 August (while stocks last).
£100 -- if you pre-order 7 E Professional between 15 July and 14 August (while stocks last).
£80 -- for 7 E Home Premium edition from 14 August until at least 2010.
£190 -- for 7 E Professional edition from 14 August until at least 2010.
£150 -- for 7 E Home Premium edition from 1 January 2010 onwards.
£220 -- for 7 E Professional edition from 1 January 2010 onwards.
And the big question: when should I switch to 7 E?
If you already have a Windows PC, pre-order when the mid-July promotion kicks in. The £50 or £100 price is too good to ignore, even if it is a sweetener to take away the taste of this half-cocked product launch. If you wait until after mid-August, the price goes up 60 per cent for Home Premium and almost doubles for Professional. If you leave it until next year, the price triples for Home Premium.
If you're thinking of buying a new PC this year, wait until October and get one with 7 E installed. You'll have to wait a few months but, trust us, you'll save yourself a world of grief.
That's just when, though. To see whether it'll be worth it to you at all, take a look at our top ten new features in Windows 7, the fancy world tour wallpapers, and our first impressions of the public release candidate.
Keep up with all things 7, including breaking news and reviews, on our dedicated Windows 7 page. Right, we're off to count how many different versions of Snow Leopard there are. One. Cor, that didn't take very long.