North American customers who purchase certain Hewlett-Packard (HP) PCs can begin signing up Wednesday for free upgrades to Windows Vista once it is available on Jan. 30.HP also is offering customers support to help them with the Vista installation process if they qualify for a free upgrade, the company said. Customers can register for upgrades at this website.Customers eligible for free upgrades beginning Wednesday are those who have purchased or will purchase a new HP Pavilion, Compaq Presario or HP Digital Entertainment Center PC with the \u201cMicrosoft Windows Vista Capable\u201d designation between Oct. 26, 2006, and March 15, 2007. Purchases must have been made direct from HP or from select retailers, and customers can upgrade only to the version of Windows Vista that is equivalent to the PC\u2019s existing version of Windows XP, HP said.Microsoft announced in March that it is working with hardware vendors to make sure customers would know which PCs were capable of running or optimized for Windows Vista. Microsoft had planned to have Vista available on PCs in time for the busy holiday shopping season, which is in progress, but delays set the OS release back to January. In October, Microsoft and its hardware partners announced they would offer coupons for discounted or free upgrades to Vista for customers who had already purchased Vista-ready PCs after months of early press reports about the plan. Analysis of the plan at the time showed there were hidden costs associated with the upgrades, costs that varied from PC vendor to vendor.HP\u2019s upgrade plan appears to be free to customers as long as they purchase eligible PCs and have access to HP technical support if they need it for the installation process. According to the vendor, customers who sign up for the free Vista upgrade will receive a kit with the OS upgrade DVD once it is available, along with an additional DVD from HP with drivers they will need to complete the installation process. On the DVD is a guide for following the correct upgrade procedure, HP said.The company also will make available the necessary Vista drivers on its HP Support website so customers can download them if needed. HP will upgrade that webpage as necessary so customers will always have the most current versions of drivers for the OS.HP also offers customer support for Vista as part of HP Total Care, its service and support program that offers a variety of plans for its consumer products, the company said. In addition to the usual technical support, HP is offering free online classes to help people install and use Vista, and also offers one-on-one classes with technical support agents. For more information on HP Total Care, customers can visit this website.-Elizabeth Montalbano, IDG News Service (New York Bureau)Related Link:\n\nMicrosoft Windows Vista: The OS Has LandedCheck out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.