Sunday, November 8, 2009

Seven perfectly legal ways to get Windows 7 cheap (or even free)

Only suckers pay retail.
If you’ve read any reviews of Windows 7, you’ve seen references to its price list, which ranges from $120 for a Home Premium upgrade to $320 for a fully licensed copy of Windows 7 Ultimate.
Well, guess what? You don’t have to pay that much. Most people have much better options available, if you know where to look.

As I’ve detailed here, the best deals go to PC manufacturers, which you benefit from if you buy a new PC.
But there are plenty of other discounts available as well. In this post, I’ve researched deals in three separate categories: upgrade offers available to anyone, special deals just for students, and subscriptions intended for technical professionals and developers.
Most of the details I include here apply to Windows customers in the United States, but some offers are also available in other countries.
Where possible, I have tried to track down those details and include the names of countries where equivalent offers exist. If you live outside the U.S., follow these links to find prices and terms for your country.
My goal in this post is to point you to deals that customers legitimately qualify for. I am not trying to encourage attempts by anyone to get away with something you’re not entitled to. If there are restrictions for a specific offer, I’ve noted them here.
Ready to get started? Pick a category and go.
Up to 55% off: Windows Anytime Upgrade

Expires: Never
Who’s eligible: Anyone running Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, or Professional
If you custom-build a new PC, you can choose the exact Windows 7 edition you want on it. OEMs get the best pricing, so this is usually your best option.
But if you purchase a preconfigured PC from an online or local retailer, you get whatever edition of Windows they chose to install on it, typically Windows 7 Home Premium for consumer PCs.
Outside of the U.S., Western Europe, and other developed markets, you might get Home Basic, and on a netbook you can get the wimpy Starter edition.
Purchasing a full retail upgrade is one option, but the Anytime Upgrade option can be much cheaper. For instance, a retail upgrade of Windows 7 Professional costs $199.99.
If you have a PC with Windows 7 Home Premium already installed on it, you can buy the Anytime Upgrade option for $89.95 direct from Microsoft.
Likewise, you can go from Windows 7 Home Premium to Ultimate for $139.95, which is a considerable savings over the $219.99 retail upgrade price for Ultimate. (The full price list is here at the Microsoft Store.)
Online retailers like offer the same deal for a discount of a few bucks, although you have to wait for a physical box to be shipped.
Up to 58% Off: Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade Family Pack
Expires: “Limited time offer” with no specific expiration date
Who’s eligible: Any multi-PC household (international)
If you have two or more PCs in your home and you want to upgrade them to Windows 7, this deal is for you. This package is only available in a physical box and (according to Microsoft) only for a limited time.
It includes two DVDs: one copy each of the 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium upgrade installation media. You get a single product key that can be activated on up to three different PCs.
In the United States, I found the Family Pack at the Microsoft Store for $150, but you should be able to pick it up elsewhere for a discount of at least $10.
Even if you only use two of the licenses and thus pay an average of $75 apiece, this is a big savings over two single upgrade copies at $120 each. If you use all three upgrades, the cost per machine is $50 or less.
According to Microsoft, this offer is also available in Japan, Canada, Germany, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Sweden.
The license says you can install Family Pack upgrades on up to three PCs in the same household, for use by residents of that household.
When I asked Microsoft whether it was OK to use this license in a home business, I was told, officially, “There is no restriction around use of a license for business purposes conducted within the home,” although naturally they recommended Windows 7 Professional for those situations.
Nothing in the license prevents you from mixing and matching the 32-bit and 64-bit versions on up to three PCs in your household. But no, you can’t share licenses with your neighbor or your cousin in Peoria.
Up to 50% Off: Buy a new PC, upgrade your old PC for half off
Expires: January 2, 2010
Who’s eligible: Anyone who buys a new PC with Windows 7 from a participating retailer
Microsoft has publicized this deal on its website, but retailers seem a little shy about promoting it. When you buy a new desktop PC or laptop with Windows 7 included, you can buy a second upgrade copy of Windows 7 for use with another PC at a discount.
The estimated price for a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium is $49.99, Windows 7 Professional is $99.99, and Windows 7 Ultimate is $119.99.
According to Microsoft, the following merchants in the United States are participating: Fry’s,, Staples, Office Depot, Costco, Best Buy, Radio Shack, Amazon, Tiger Direct, Walmart,, and The Microsoft Store.
If you go to Newegg, you’ll find the offer available as a Combo Deal with individual PCs. So, for example, if you buy a Toshiba Qosmio X505-Q830 you can pick up a second boxed retail upgrade of Windows 7 for $70-100 off.
I didn’t see any mention of the offer in this week’s local ad for Best Buy. Maybe a salesman would offer me this deal if I shopped at a local store. offered the deal on this page, but I didn’t get any clue or pointer to this offer when I added a new PC to my shopping cart, and the promotional discount wasn’t applied to my order until I was ready to check out.
If you’re planning to buy a new PC anyway, this deal is worth it, but you might have to be persistent to get it.

Up to 85% off: The Windows 7 Academic Offer
Expires: January 3, 2010
Who’s eligible: College/university students (international)
If you are a an eligible university student who attends an educational institution in the United States, you can purchase an upgrade edition of Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 7 Professional for $29.99. (That’s a huge savings from the regular price of $119.99 or $199.99, respectively.)
You must be “actively enrolled in at least 0.5 course credit.” Full terms for the U.S. offer are here. Any college or university that gives you a .edu address qualifies, as do the eligible institutions on this list. If you don’t have a qualifying e-mail address, you can still apply by following these instructions. To apply in the United States, start here.
According to Microsoft, similar offers are also available in Japan, Canada, Germany, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Sweden.
Limitations? The deal is one copy per student. Digital download is fulfilled through Digital River, or you can pay $13 extra for a physical disk. The offer is non-transferable, but the terms are curiously vague about whether you can sell or give away the software itself. This is not an academic or otherwise restricted license; it is the same upgrade package available via retail outlets.
Free: MSDN Academic Alliance
Expires: No expiration date
Who’s eligible: College/university students in technical departments (international)
If you are enrolled in a science, technology, engineering, or math department at an educational institution that belongs to the MSDN Academic Alliance, you can get free software for use in your studies. (There are also similar offers for students in visual, illustration, design, and art departments.)
The program also extends to members of IEEE and ACM. The list of available titles originally included Windows 7 Professional, but when word spread of this benefit, both organizations suddenly had a flood of new membership requests, virtually all of them from non-students looking for a freebie. That inspired this announcement from Microsoft’s Academic Care blog.
The release of Windows 7 through these subscriptions triggered an unanticipated situation that put the program at risk: We saw signs thatnon-students were joining ACM and IEEE as student members solely to obtain Windows 7 through MSDN AA. This infringed on the intent of the program and the conditions of the MSDN AA license. As a result, we decided to remove Windows 7 from the association MSDN AA memberships while we evaluate approaches to ensure that the offering is reaching only the target audience: students and educators. While we expect to have a final position on the matter resolved in the near future, we cannot guarantee that Windows 7 will be available through this associations due to the complexity of student enrollment verification.
So, here’s the bottom line: If you want to join IEEE or ACM, you won’t get a free copy of Windows 7. But if you’re a student in a technical or design course of studies, you might qualify and you should aggressively pursue your right to this benefit. You can find out whether your school is eligible by searching here. If you’re an English or Political Science major or a non-student, you should look elsewhere.

Annual subscription: TechNet Plus
Expires: No expiration date
Who’s eligible: Anyone (international)
If you’re an IT pro, technical professional, journalist, or hobbyist, Microsoft has a program called TechNet Plus designed to give you access to a wide range of evaluation software for a single annual subscription fee.
The price varies by country, and also by whether you’re purchasing as an individual or on behalf of an organization. In the United States, the price is $349 for the first year and $249 annually for renewals. (Both of those prices are for download-only access; if you want DVDs shipped to you, you’ll need to pay a higher price.)
What you get for that price is access to a staggering amount of software, including just about every version of Windows (desktop and server) ever made, along with past and current editions of Microsoft Office, developer tools, servers, and much more.
You get multiple activations for most products – typically 10 product keys for every Windows and Office edition. You also get access to premium Microsoft support: two complimentary incidents per year.
The software and accompanying product keys don’t expire. So if you decide next year not to renew your subscription, you can continue to use the software and keys you downloaded.
So what’s the catch? Read the license agreement carefully! This software is NOT for use as a replacement for licenses on PCs you use at home or work. Here’s what the FAQ says:
The license grants installation and use rights to one user only, for evaluation purposes, on any of the user’s devices, this may include devices at home. Keep in mind that you may use the evaluation software only to evaluate it. You may not use it in a live operating environment, a staging environment, or with data that has not been sufficiently backed up. You may not use the evaluation software for software development or in an application development environment.
For technical professionals who evaluate hardware and software professionally, or for hobbyists who want to play around with new technologies, this is a tremendous deal.
Annual subscription: Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN
Expires: No expiration date
Who’s eligible: Anyone (international)
The terms and benefits of an MSDN subscriptionare generally similar to those offered to TechNet subscribers, with a few crucial differences.
The biggest difference is that MSDN is specifically intended for professional software developers. An annual subscription gives you access to a wide range of professional developer tools and pre-release products.
Every MSDN subscription includes access to the latest version of Windows with multiple activations. You can choose from different levels of MSDN subscriptions.
The cheapest is the MSDN Operating Systems subscription, which costs $699 for the first year and $499 for renewals. It offers full access to Windows, toolkits, and SDKs.
Prices go up for other editions: $999 ($649 renewal) for an Expression Professional subscription, for example, which is intended for designers and web developers and includes Windows, Office, Expression Studio, and Visual Studio Standard Edition.
Unlike TechNet licenses, which are strictly for evaluation, an MSDN Premium subscription specifically permits you to install and use one copy of the latest edition of Microsoft Office (currently Office Ultimate 2007), Project, SharePoint Designer, Visio Professional, and Office Communicator “for General Business Use … on one machine for any purpose.”
The MSDN license agreement is detailed and worth reading in full. There’s an excellent summary of your rights as a subscriber here. This paragraph is especially noteworthy:
Many MSDN subscribers use a computer for mixed use—both design, development, testing, and demonstration of your programs (the use allowed under the MSDN Subscription license) and some other use.  Using the software in any other way, such as for doing email, playing games, or editing a document is another use and is not covered by the MSDN Subscription license.  When this happens, the underlying operating system must also be licensed normally by purchasing a regular copy of Windows such as the one that came with a new OEM PC.
If you’re a professional developer or designer who uses Microsoft products, MSDN subscriptions can be a bargain. If you just want cheap access to Windows 7, you have better options.

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