When Windows 8 was released, Microsoft caused a lot of angst by not making a full-install version for new systems or for use in a virtual machine immediately available for retail purchase. It seems a lesson has been learned: the retail version of Windows 8.1 which is being released on 18 October will be the full version, not an 'upgrade-only' release.
Having a full boxed version is especially handy if you do a lot of VM installs or frequent hardware upgrades, a factor Microsoft acknowledges in its blog post announcing the change:
One shift to note in Windows 8.1 is that we will be offering "full version software" at retail and online for download that does not require a previous version of Windows in order to be installed. The copy of Windows 8 that is currently available for sale at retail and online is an "upgrade version." This shift allows more flexibility for customers in specific technical scenarios and is in response to feedback we've received. It will be easier for those consumers who want to build PCs from scratch, run Windows 8.1 in Virtual Machine (VM) environments, or run Windows 8.1 on a second hard drive partition.
There is a downside of sorts: this means the retail version won't be usable to upgrade Windows XP or Vista machines while keeping your data. You can perform a clean install, but you'll have to back up your own data first. Migrating user data is possible on Windows 7 machines upgrading direct to Windows 8.1. (For existing Windows 8 users, Windows 8.1 will be a free upgrade downloaded via the Windows Store and will retain all apps and settings.)
US pricing for Windows 8.1 full version will be $US119, or $199 for Windows 8.1 Pro. We've asked Microsoft Australia to confirm local pricing, but it seems likely it will be the same as the current price, which is $149.99 for the standard full version. (If that's what happens, there will be a very slight case of 'Australia tax' at best; $US119 works out to around $141 once you factor in currency conversion and GST).
Pricing and Packaging for Windows 8.1 [Blogging Windows]