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When you're a company as vast and complex as Microsoft, a seemingly straightforward act like changing the price of a product can actually take months of planning and logistics. Unfortunately, the company has hiked the price on Windows 10 only days after it had to pull the much-anticipated October update, on account of it deleting the contents of many users' Documents folders.

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In the midst of this problem, the company has also quietly increased the price of Windows 10 from $120 to $140. Although the operating system was released three years ago, a $20 bump substantially outpaces inflation, indicating that other forces are at work.

On Amazon, the version of Windows 10 that comes on a USB thumb drive is still going for $120. But sales tax may still cut into your savings, if you live in a state that charges it for this kind of transaction. So far, stores like Amazon have not been required to charge sales tax for digital goods in most jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, Best Buy offers a product labeled "Windows 10 Home Creators Update" for $120. The description on the product page is identical to the one for the older version, which has gotten the $20 price increase. The "Creators Update" was released in spring 2017, so this may just be an overlooked version whose price will also be going up soon.

Newegg, Fry's Electronics, Micro Center, and other regional computer parts sellers are all reflecting this price change. On Fry's website, the $120 USB version is tagged as a clearance item.

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You can still get the "OEM" or "System Builder" version of Windows 10 at a discount, but this license is technically supposed to be tied to one device. You can't migrate the product key to a new PC later.

Why the price hike?

Possible reasons include Microsoft adding a premium feature to Windows 10; removing some of the pre-installed games, or some of the ad-like components of the Start menu and notifications system (which are presumably there to offset costs); or using sales of Windows 10 to subsidize costs elsewhere.

Windows is the only major home desktop operating system that requires a purchase at this point, although it remains the dominant one by far. According to research firm NetMarketShare, its nearest rival MacOS is on less than 10 percent of desktop PCs around the world, and Linux hovers around 2 percent. As long as Windows remains overwhelmingly dominant, Microsoft can continue to charge its preferred price.

The takeaways

  • For reasons unknown, Microsoft has raised the price of Windows 10 Home from $120 to $140. You may be able to find the USB thumb drive version on sale for $120, but it appears to a clearance item.
  • This comes only days after Microsoft decided to postpone the much-anticipated October update to Windows 10.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.