Several important deadlines for Windows 8 early adopters are looming next week.
Most importantly, the opportunity to order upgrades to Windows 8 Pro for $39.99 ($69.99 if you want a physical disk) will end on January 31. Beginning February 1, the price of that upgrade goes up to $199.99.
Likewise, the opportunity to qualify for a $14.99 Windows 8 Pro upgrade for any new PC you buy with Windows 7 preinstalled ends on January 31, 2013. You have until February 28, 2013 to redeem that offer. But remember, this only applies to a new PC preinstalled with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, or Ultimate and purchased from June 2, 2012 through January 31, 2013.
Finally, if you are running Windows 8 Pro, either as an upgrade or purchased on a new PC, you qualify for a free Windows 8 Media Center Pack. Installing this upgrade unlocks the Windows 8 Media Center component and the codecs required to play back DVDs in Windows 8. This offer ends on January 31, 2013 as well, after which the price for that add-on goes up to $9.99.
You can find the details of the no-charge Media Center Pack upgrade on this promotional page at Windows.com. The page contains installation instructions and notes that the offer is “valid from October 26, 2012, until January 31, 2013, and is limited to one product key per email address.”
If you ordered multiple free product keys via this offer, you might have seen this wording in the terms and conditions:
Your product key must be activated no later than January 31, 2013. Microsoft will only contact you at the email address you provide to send you your product key and to remind you when the activation period for your product key is ending.
And if you haven’t yet gotten around to using one of those keys, you’ll likely receive a message like this one, which reiterates those terms:
Does that warning mean your Media Center Pack key will no longer work beginning February 1?
I checked with a Microsoft spokesperson and was told that the keys will continue to work after the deadline passes, and that they will work later if you need to reinstall Windows. The e-mail messages are mostly a reminder to upgrade, I was told.
Update: A Microsoft spokesperson contacted me with additional information on this issue. Yes, you must activate those copies of the Media Center Pack by January 31. It’s possible (even likely) that the activation servers will continue to honor those keys for some period of time after January 31, but at some point in the near future an unactivated Media Center Pack key that was issued as part of this promotion will not be honored. (They will be usable for reinstallations, however.) Keys that are paid for, either before or after the deadline, will not expire.
My guess is that this legal requirement had to do with Microsoft’s payments to Dolby Corporation and others for licensing rights to the codecs that are included with the Media Center Pack. Each Media Center Pack key that is activated triggers a payment to those rights holders (my guess is the amount is somewhere between $7 and $10), and for accounting reasons Microsoft would really like to clear as many of them off its books as possible before the deadline passes. (If you’re curious about the background, I covered it in this post.)
There are a few cautions to keep in mind before you do this otherwise simple upgrade.
First, the new license key replaces your existing Windows 8 Pro license key. Make sure you keep a record of the existing license key so that you can use it if you need to reinstall Windows 8 Pro. You’ll find that key in the e-mail you received if you ordered the upgrade from Microsoft. If you can’t find that e-mail, use a tool like the free KeyFinder (get the version “without toolbar offers”) to locate and save it.
Second, some people have reported activation hassles after installing the Media Center Pack. The symptom is an error code 0xC004C4AA, which blocks online activation. I encountered this error on one of five test systems here and had to use a manual activation code from Microsoft Support to return my system to a properly activated state. If this happens to you, check out the Microsoft Community support forums.
For what it’s worth, I am continuing to use the Windows 7 version of Media Center with my CableCard-equipped tuners here. There’s nothing new in the Windows 8 Media Center, and it breaks support for some features, including compatibility with extender devices other than the Xbox 360.