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Media Center will be Paid-For Add-On in Windows 8

What happened?

Microsoft has said that Media Center won't be built into Windows 8 for free. Instead, it will be available as a paid-for, add-on software pack. Prices haven't yet been announced, but Microsoft said it would be a "marginal" cost.

However, Windows 8 will have video and music-playing apps built into its new Metro interface, so anyone looking to play tracks or watch downloaded video won't need any additional software.

Microsoft also said that the new operating system won't have any built-in software to play DVDs. The company claimed that less than six per cent of people play DVDs or Blu-rays on their computers, with the "vast majority" downloading or streaming content.

Another change will be the end of the Windows Live brand, which includes Hotmail, SkyDrive and Messenger, as well as the Windows Live Essentials software package, which includes free photo, video and email apps. Instead, such accounts will simply be referred to as Microsoft products to prevent confusion.

New apps in the touch-friendly Metro interface will take over from Essentials, while Hotmail, SkyDrive and Messenger will continue to work as before, and you'll be able to use your username and password to log in to Windows 8 computers, with settings synchronized automatically.

How will it affect you?

To watch DVDs and Blu-rays on a Windows 8 PC, you'll need to find a free player such as VLC media player (www.videolan.org) or pay for the Media Center download. Few people will notice the demise of Windows Live. It's essentially a marketing change, so shouldn't have any effect on how you use Hotmail, Sky Drive or Messenger. If you're a fan of the Essentials package, you'll have to use the new Metro apps if you upgrade to Windows 8.

What do we think? 

Microsoft may be right that fewer people are watching DVDs on computers, but that's no reason to make Media Center a paid-for download. It feels stingy to expect someone to pay for an upgrade to Windows 8 or a new PC running the OS and not be able to play a DVD.

That said, Microsoft's reasons make financial sense because it pays royalties on the bits of code the software requires to play DVDs, even if a Windows user never fires up Media Center.

Also, with free players available online, this news is no reason not to upgrade if the touchscreen Metro interface catches your eye.

Windows Live never caught on as a brand - did anyone, anywhere say 'Windows Live Mail' instead of 'Hotmail'? Microsoft is right to tidy up its product line, and to better integrate the cloud services, but it shouldn't force users to log in with their Hotmail account. For security and privacy reasons, some people may not want their SkyDrive or Messenger associated with their hardware, and shouldn't be forced to simply because it’s meant to make using Windows easier.

Despite these reservations, we've been impressed by the Windows 8 apps made available so far, which makes us confident its media-playing apps will do a good job. But this news won't do anything to increase public enthusiasm for the new OS.