Another Facepalm Moment

Sigh. Microsoft has announced the versions of Windows 8 that will be available later this year, and I am once again shaking my head trying to understand what on earth they were thinking about when they came up with the scheme.

Let me explain.

At the moment, there’s a component that ships as standard in most versions of Windows 7: Windows Media Center. Most people don’t even know it’s there, which is a pity, because it’s a pretty good piece of software for turning your PC into a combined Entertainment Center for TV, movies, music and photos, and also provides DVR functionality for record and playback of TV. I’ve used it to set up our HTPC, which uses our TV to display our digital media (movies, music and photos).

For the upcoming versions of Windows 8, Microsoft has done two things:

  1. Removed Windows Media Center from being a standard component shipped with Windows, to being an Add-on component (the “Media Pack”) that will be charged for separately.
  2. Prevented the Media Pack Add-on from being available to the consumer version of Windows 8, but only making it available for Windows 8 Pro.

Now, I can understand Microsoft’s rationale behind (1). There are third party licensing costs involved (e.g. Dolby Digital codecs) in Windows Media Center, and by spinning the Media Pack off to be a separately charged item means that Microsoft can reduce the cost of Windows 8 slightly.

But I really fail to understand why Microsoft are forcing those of us who are interested in buying the Media Pack to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, instead of being able to continue with the consumer version of Windows 8. After all, Windows Media Center runs on Windows 7 Home Premium (the consumer product) today. It does not require Windows 7 Professional. Looking at the price differentials of Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional upgrades for XP and Vista today, I suspect I will have to pay almost twice as much for Windows 8 Pro as I would for Windows 8.

The seven additional features of Windows 8 Pro are of absolutely zero interest to me, and have no bearing (as far as I can see) on the running of the Media Pack. Yet I, and others like me, who would consider upgrading to the Windows 8 version of Windows Media Center are faced with double costs: first upgrade from Windows 7 Home Premium to Windows 8 Pro, and then acquire the Media Pack.

I think I’ll be seriously considering the zero-cost option of sticking with Windows Media Center running on Windows 7 Home Premium for as long as I possibly can, and I don’t think that I’ll be the only one.

It seems to me that Microsoft has killed the potential market for the Media Pack with this move. That may, of course, have been their real objective in coming up with this scheme.

Update 4 May 2012

Oh dearie me. Microsoft has issued another post to clarify the situation. Except it seems to me to have changed absolutely nothing.

The post contains a diagram showing the possible upgrade paths to a version of Windows 8 that will contain Windows Media Center:

W8CP 07

So, let me understand this. Let’s look at the starting points; you have a choice between plain old Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro. The difference between these two features was defined in Microsoft’s original announcement of the Windows 8 versions. Here’s a part of the Features Table from that post showing the seven additional features that are included in Windows 8 Pro:

W8CP 08

The difference in cost between the two versions is likely to be in the region of $100, judging by the price differential between Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional.

Now, looking at the diagram of the upgrade paths again, it is clear that, just as the original announcement stated, it will not be possible to simply add Windows Media Center to Windows 8 via an add-on pack that just contains WMC. Oh no, you have to buy an add-on pack that contains WMC and the additional features of Windows 8 Pro. So I would still end up buying Windows 8 Pro features that I don’t want or need (at a likely $100 cost) along with a cost for the WMC component.

To add insult to injury, it appears that the version of WMC that will be available for Windows 8 is essentially the same old version as the one that we currently get for free in Windows 7.

I think that seals the deal for me: I’m sticking with my Windows 7 Home Premium (with its free WMC) as the operating system on my HTPC. I see no point in paying $100+ for a version of Windows 8 that gives me no advantages whatsoever.

Update 11 May 2012

I see that Microsoft has now closed the comments on both of their posts on the Building Windows 8 blog on this issue. Too many negative reactions, I suppose, and who can blame us?

Paul Thurrott has also now weighed in with a column in which he also vents about Microsoft’s media direction.

The thing is: Microsoft had something in WMC that was ahead of the curve, and they have dropped the ball. Their vision has failed – probably the original team got disbanded, and their executive sponsorship vanished. Much the same thing has happened with Windows Home Server.

It’s also true that streaming of content is on the rise; but there will always be a minority of users for whom streaming will never be the answer. I’m in the countryside, at the end of a piece of wet string – I depend on optical media for high quality content. I also depend on optical media for content that is otherwise not legally available in my market.

It’s all very well for Microsoft to say that I can get my DVD codecs from third parties, if I’m not prepared to pay top whack for Windows 8 Pro, with its features that I don’t want. But quite honestly, the sort of bloatware that third parties provide is something that I don’t want to be forced to accept.

We seem to be heading back to the old days, when we had to buy something like Nero in order to be able to burn a CD in Windows. Over the years, Nero ballooned into a software suite that was truly appalling. It was a relief to be able to dump it, and just use the features built-into newer versions of Windows to handle my optical media.

Now, with Windows 8, Microsoft seem to be turning the clock back to the bad old days. The bean-counters are in charge. The people with vision have left the company.

Update 7 June 2012

Microsoft has quietly removed two features from the version of Windows Media Center for Windows 8. These features are required for dedicated HTPCs. See this post at The Digital Media site for details. Two more reasons not to upgrade my HTPC, it would seem.

Update 3 July 2012

Well now, Microsoft has just thrown a curve ball. They’ve announced that the upgrade price from Windows 7 to Windows 8 Pro (note: the Pro version!) will be $39.99 up until 31 January 2013. That is a very attractive price, I have to say. It also includes a free upgrade to Windows Media Center. Now at that price, while I will certainly upgrade our other PCs with Windows 8 Pro, it is also going to make me think hard about whether I should not just take the plunge and upgrade our HTPC as well.

I find it interesting that the upgrade is for the Pro version of Windows 8, rather than simply the base Windows 8 version. Perhaps Microsoft has been stung by all the negative reactions from the technical press and blogs about Windows 8 and is making a gamble here to regain lost ground. Whatever the reason, I find it an attractive offer.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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6 Responses to Another Facepalm Moment

  1. Kirk says:

    R.I.P. Windows 8…

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Actually, I quite like Windows 8, just not this particular marketing decision. And the installed base of Windows Media Center users is so small that I doubt it will bother Microsoft in the slightest…

  2. Jack D says:

    This would all be terrible as you say, if it were true. The Media Pack is standard with Win 8 and stripped from Pro, available as an add on. Just as most businesses don’t want games included they do not want Media playback either… hence it is an optional extra. I’m not sure about the Enterprise version… chances are it will include the Media Pack but not be installed by default in much the same way as, say, print services for UNIX are.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Jack – I think that you are incorrect.

      Currently, Windows Media Center comes as standard on four versions of Windows 7: Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise. By bundling it with these four SKUs, Microsoft is paying third parties such as Dolby Laboratories for licenses that are not used in the majority of cases. With Windows 8, Microsoft are taking the opportunity to strip out WMC and these licenses from all SKUs and just make it available to those who want it.

      If Microsoft want to save on licensing costs (and they do), it would make zero sense to carry on supplying WMC in the consumer version of Windows 8, yet ask people to pay for it with Windows 8 Pro. Nope, they’re stripping it out of all SKUs. See this report from last year:

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