In previous Windows versions, Microsoft offered a feature called Windows Anytime Upgrade that provided a fairly seamless, electronic way of upgrading from the current Windows product edition to a higher-end product edition. In the theme of “reimagining” virtually everything in Windows 8, however, Microsoft has replaced this functionality with the new Add Features to Windows 8. Here’s how it works in the Release Preview.

(If you’re curious about Windows Anytime Upgrade, you can learn more in my previous articles, Windows 7 Feature Focus: Windows Anytime Upgrade and Windows Vista Feature Focus: Windows Anytime Upgrade.)

Add Features to Windows 8 is a classic control panel, so it’s a bit hard to locate. Assuming you can even find the System control panel, you’ll see a link called Get more features with a new edition of Windows:

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But the simplest way, as always, is to use Start Search. If you search for add features and then target Settings, you’ll see Add Features to Windows 8 in the search results.

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Add Features to Windows 8 is a simple, wizard-based application that offers two basic choices up front: You can purchase an upgrade electronically, through the wizard, or you can enter a previously-purchased product key to obtain your upgrade in-place.

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Since the former choice offers a great peek at this control panel’s functionality and is in fact a superset of the latter choice, let’s look at that.

First, the wizard will look online to see which options are available to you. What you see next will be based on which Windows 8 product edition you’re currently running and whether you’ve already purchased and installed any upgrades. In the buildup to the Release Preview, we saw several different sets of offerings, so it’s pretty clear that any coming changes to this functionality can occur on Microsoft’s cloud-based backend, without requiring the actual on-PC code to change. A representative offering (with test verbiage and graphics) can be seen here:

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Once you’ve selected the choice you wish to make—in the future, this could be something like the Windows 8 Pro Pack, which will be offered to Windows 8 Core users—the wizard will note that it’s getting a few things ready and will then prompt you for your billing information. (Which this doesn’t tie into your Microsoft account’s information automatically is unclear, but perhaps that will change in the future.)

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After entering your billing information, you select a payment method—which can be any major credit card or, interestingly, PayPal—and then confirm the order.

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Behind the scenes, Microsoft will attempt to charge the required fee to your payment method and will then provide you with the product key you need to perform the upgrade.

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From here, you can perform the upgrade immediately by clicking Next. Or, you can click View and print full receipt to save the product key for a later use.

Assuming you choose Next, you’ll see the same window you’d get if you chose the “I already have a product key” option at the beginning of the wizard. Just accept the license terms and click Add features to continue.

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The wizard will then install the upgrade, downloading any necessary files it may need.

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It’s hard to say how long this will take with real-world upgrades, but in testing it never took more than a few minutes, and contrary to the warning, no reboots were ever noted. (That will most certainly change.)

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Given the limitations of testing this feature in the days building up to the Release Preview, it’s currently unclear whether Add Features to Windows 8 offers any substantial improvement over Windows Anytime Upgrade. But it’s a simple enough bit of functionality, albeit one that’s not immediately obvious, at least in this release.

But wait, there’s more!

Discover much, much more about the Windows 8 Release Preview in Windows 8 Release Preview: The Ultimate Delta Guide, a guide to all of the articles I’ve published about this milestone build of Microsoft’s next OS.