The Media Center universe has been thrown a curve ball lately and not all users are dealing with it well. Microsoft has finally revealed the details of how Media Center fits into Windows 8 and love it or hate it, at least it will be there. Before getting to the details however, a bit of Windows 8 SKU talk is needed.
Microsoft has decided to only release three versions of the world's leading OS when it comes to Windows 8. This breaks with tradition which has had the company releasing five or more different versions of their software. They've decided to simplify the Windows 8 deployment with just three:
- Windows 8: This will be your standard Windows version that most people will use.
- Windows 8 Pro: This version is considered by MS to be for tech enthusiasts and business environment users. It adds encryption, virtualization, domain connectivity and other, more technical features.
- Windows RT: This version isn't something you'll purchase at a store but is the version of Windows 8 that will be pre-installed on PCs and tablets powered by ARM processors.
This structure greatly simplifies the Windows offerings when compared to both Vista and Windows 7. Consumers will more easily determine which version they need for their use at home.
So how does Media Center fit into this? Quite simply, for the first time since Windows XP, Media Center will only be available in one SKU. On top of that, it will be part of a paid media add-on. In order to use Media Center in Windows 8 (MC8) you'll need to have Windows 8 Pro installed on your HTPC. The media add-on pack will not be available for the standard version of Windows 8.
So yes, Media Center in Windows 8 is going to cost you more. Not only will you need to upgrade to the Pro version of the OS, but you'll need to purchase the add-on pack as well. Many enthusiasts are seeing this as a negative turn for our favorite HTPC software. We've been using Media Center for free since it was first introduced in Windows XP Media Center Edition and I have no doubt that there will those people who will refuse to pay for the software especially when you consider that so far, MC8 looks as though it won't add any new features over Windows 7's version.
That said, this is something that I, (and others) have been asking for when it comes to our favorite HTPC software. By making Media Center a paid add-on, it may in fact cut back on the number of users however, Microsoft will be unable to ignore bugs and other issues that exist in the software. At least that's the hope. With Media Center as a value added bonus included in the OS, fixes over the years have been slow to emerge and some have never been addressed. This can be typical of most free software. Things begin to change once you start charging for the same software however. Now customers expect that you'll manage, update and fix any issues that might arise.
Now, whether or not this actually happens has yet to be seen. Microsoft may continue to ignore some of the smaller bugs contained in Media Center whether or not people pay for it. I do believe that they'll find it hard to do so however.
It's at this point uncertain what else will be contained in the "media pack" add-on for Windows 8. From what we've read so far, it seems as though Media Center is only one part of it though it's hard to tell what else the company might include. Perhaps buyers will receive other software that will enhance their HTPC experience but only time will tell.
In the end, users have a relatively simple choice to make when it comes to MC8. They can either upgrade by purchasing a Windows 8 Pro license and the add-on media pack, or they can continue to use Windows Media Center 7 which of course won't magically stop working when Windows 8 is released. Either way, you'll still be using the best HTPC software available.