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This week, Microsoft at last confirmed the Windows 10 upgrades we’ll all be receiving in a few short weeks will come with an important feature: Once you upgrade to the new version of Windows, your authenticated copy of Windows 10 will provide you with a key that can be used to perform clean installs rather than an in-place upgrade. After this initial process, you won’t have to keep your old key, drop a CD in the drive, or otherwise mirror the original Windows installation.
This suggests Microsoft will effectively allow people to redeem previous Windows keys for new Windows 10 iterations, which will then be tied to whatever version of the OS you’re qualified to own. There’s no word yet on what happens if, for example, you redeem a legitimate Windows 7 key for a new Windows 10 key, then upgrade the underlying hardware in the box. Gamers with legitimate copies of Windows 7 or 8/8.1 may want to do any upgrades they intend to make before actually installing the new version of Windows 10 — it’s possible that upgrading the hardware post-OS install will lock the key to a particular platform and make it more difficult to swap components in the future.
When Microsoft launched its last software-as-a-service push with Office 365, it simultaneously introduced requirements that made reinstallation and upgrades more onerous than they had been previously. Specifically, it became (temporarily) against the terms of service to remove the software from one installed system and put it on another. The company later modified this wording after consumer pressure, but the terms and conditions surrounding Windows 10 and its upgrade / reinstallation policies still haven’t been clarified.
Phil Spencer promises unified Xbox One, Windows 10 gaming experience
Meanwhile, Microsoft has announced it will support PC Gamer’s efforts to host a PC gaming-themed event at E3. For years, PC gaming has been all-but ignored — Valve’s Steam has hauled in hundreds of millions of dollars over the last ten years, while Microsoft’s efforts to build a credible Windows Store or its own Games for Windows Live platform have been wretched by comparison. Xbox head Phil Spencer has made it clear he wants to change this and outlined a plan to offer Xbox as a multi-platform gaming brand that would extend across both PCs and the Xbox One itself. Details on the plan are still vague, though Microsoft has promised that Windows 10 device owners who own Xboxes and compatible networking hardware will be able to stream games from Xbox to PC across local networks.
While Spencer told PC Gamer that PC gaming is now much more important to Microsoft than it was in the past, his explanation of what’s changed between the old Games for Windows days and the modern era could raise flags for some:
“The key difference now is that the Xbox team is driving the Windows and console gaming efforts as one connected ecosystem,” Spencer said. “Games and gaming is front and center in our device and service strategy at Microsoft. I can tell you definitively that our team has never committed more resources to making Windows better for game developers and gamers, and that means any gamer on Windows 10, regardless of storefront or device.”
While Xbox One integration and cross-platform play could be great for both console and PC gaming, hearing that Xbox is driving the PC gaming bus isn’t necessarily good news. On the one hand, the Xbox One is a PC for all intents and purposes. In previous generations, the gaps between consoles and PCs were firmly rooted in both hardware and software, the first Xbox notwithstanding. Today, the Xbox One is a PC — albeit a PC with some specialized internal components and a low-level OS variant based on Windows 8. There’s no reason why Microsoft can’t merge many aspects of gaming and content sharing across platforms to the betterment of both. Spencer, for example, leaves open the idea of bringing Xbox One exclusives over to Windows 10 and promoting both platforms simultaneously.
What’s going to be trickier, however, is offering PC gamers features that take advantage of the fact that a game is running on a PC. Many of the top-tier releases of the past few years that debuted for both platforms have UIs and interfaces clearly designed for console gamers first. Games like Skyrim are designed for low-information user interfaces that are murder to sort through or work with. Games designed to be played with a monitor at a distance of 2-4 feet have different guidelines and rules than titles designed for televisions at a distance of 6-8 feet. That doesn’t make one “better” than the other — but PC gamers are going to be watching Microsoft to see if the company actually uses its efforts to improve gaming on both platforms, or if it expects PC gamers to roll over and make nice with Xbox.
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