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Microsoft tries to spread Vista far and wide

New programs are aimed at getting more people to move to Vista--and getting those running the OS to opt for a pricier edition.

Microsoft wants to get your whole house running Windows Vista.

In what is being billed as a limited time offer, Microsoft will let those who buy a boxed version of Vista Ultimate Edition purchase discounted licenses for up to two more PCs in their house. The cost for each of the additional PC licenses is $50; for that amount, consumers can install the Home Premium version of Vista on the other PCs.

"It's targeted at what we term the 'super-engaged customers,'" said Bill Mannion, a director in the Windows marketing group. Such customers tend to have more than one PC, he said. "This is a focused program designed to encourage these super-engaged customers to upgrade multiple PCs in the household."

In addition, Microsoft is relying on other novel ways to try to get Vista on more PCs. One is the Anytime Upgrade, which allows users of one version of the operating system to easily move to a pricier edition without having to go to a store.

The company is also looking to get computer makers and retailers in on the act, allowing them to create campaigns to encourage their customers to use the Anytime Upgrade. If their pitch succeeds, they'll get the profit margin on the sale.

Another option for getting Vista is to download it directly from Microsoft's online software site, Windows Marketplace. In a first, Microsoft is making the new releases of both Office and Windows available for download at their standard list prices. (CNET Networks, the publisher of, is a partner in Windows Marketplace.)

The discounted license program is being offered only in the U.S. and Canada and only from Vista's January 30 mainstream launch through June 30.

"We're going to evaluate the program at that point and determine if we make any changes to the program," Mannion said.

Apple has been giving a break to homes with multiple computers for years. In 2002, the company introduced a product allowing users, for $199, to upgrade up to five Macs in a home to the latest version of Mac OS X. Apple still sells the family pack for the same price, which is just $70 more than the cost for a single PC.

Microsoft has been weighing whether to make such an offer for some time. Windows chief Jim Allchin told CNET a year ago that such a family pack was "a great idea."

Under an existing, but not necessarily well-known program, Microsoft already offers a 10 percent discount on additional PCs to those who buy a boxed copy of Windows. That program will continue with Vista, Mannion said. The new program requires customers to buy the priciest version of Vista--Ultimate, which sells for $259 as an upgrade and $399 for use on a new PC.

Customers who discover the Anytime Upgrade feature within Vista will be prompted with a list of places to buy from. It's not clear what they'll be choosing, since all they are getting is a product key--the software bits themselves will already be in their hands--either on the hard drive of their Vista PC or on a DVD that came with the computer or boxed copy of Windows.

The suggested prices of the Anytime Upgrade are:
• Home Basic to Home Premium ? $79
• Home Basic to Ultimate ? $199
• Home Premium to Ultimate ? $159
• Business to Ultimate ? $139

Mannion said Microsoft is trying to reach consumers in new ways, particularly as software purchases shift online. He said that IDC is predicting a 34 percent annual growth rate for electronically downloaded software through 2009, while Gartner is projecting that by 2008, 80 percent of consumer software will be distributed electronically.