Confirming what might have been this year's worst kept secret, Microsoft said people who buy a computer in the run up to Christmas will get coupons for free or discounted Vista upgrades.
The program is a moot point for users under Microsoft's volume licensing program, who are expected to get access to Vista at the end of November.
But consumers, small businesses and companies buying desktop PCs labelled "Windows Vista capable" will be eligible for the Vista upgrade coupons.
Microsoft hopes the coupon program will help drive holiday PC sales. In March, Microsoft again delayed the shipment of Vista moving it from Dec. 2006 to the first quarter of 2007. The move appeared to leave PC manufacturers out in the holiday cold.
The program announced Tuesday, however, and dubbed Express Upgrade to Windows Vista begins Thursday (Oct. 26) and runs through March 15, 2007.
The timing indicates that Vista will be delivered at the end of March unless Microsoft again delays its shipment.
A parallel program called Microsoft Office Technology Guarantee Programs will provide similar upgrades to those that purchase editions of Microsoft Office 2003. The PCs and Office software must be purchased from a certified Microsoft OEM or "smaller computer makers, known as system builders," according to Microsoft.
In addition, those who buy stand-alone versions of Office 2003 between Oct. 26 and Feb. 28, 2007 also will be eligible for the Office upgrade plan.
Users under either program will receive discounted offers on Windows Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office system, which is now the centre of Microsoft's real-time collaboration strategy.
The upgrade program is expected to include free and low-cost upgrades based on the version of the operating system or Office software purchased.
According to the Vista team blog, users will be charged a "nominal fee" when upgrading from Windows XP Media Centre Edition 2005 to Windows Vista Home Premium; Windows XP Professional to Windows Vista Business; Windows XP Tablet PC Edition to Windows Vista Business; and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition to Windows Vista Business 64.
Upgrades from Windows XP Home Edition to Windows Vista Home Basic or Windows Vista Home Premium will be available at a "50% discount from the boxed product upgrade price, plus shipping and handling."