| By Brian Livingston |
I revealed in my Feb. 1 article that you can buy the "upgrade" version of Windows Vista and clean-install it to any hard drive, with or without a preexisting version of Windows XP or 2000.
This renders the more expensive “full” version of Vista unnecessary — and many of my readers have provided additional information about why this upgrade trick works.
Vista workaround is a deliberate feature
My previous article explained that the Vista upgrade will succeed, and will validate, when any previous version of Windows is running at the time. That includes a 30-day trial version of Vista. Every retail copy of Vista allows a trial period by installing the product without entering a product key. (See my previous story for the exact steps.)
The evidence is mounting that this upgrade policy is an official decision by Microsoft. It’s clearly not any kind of hacker trick. The steps to install without a product key, and to upgrade regardless of what version of Windows is running, is hard-coded into Vista in such a way that it can’t be a mistake.
One source of mine shared with me some of the thinking within Microsoft on Vista upgrades. I’m withholding the source’s name to protect his relationships within the Redmond company. He exchanged e-mails with a support engineer who said (I’m paraphrasing here):
- “Checking for previous versions of Windows was easy to spoof in XP. So Deployment just said, ‘Let’s skip it.’ Vista only requires that the Upgrade Key must be entered while an instance of the operating system is running.”
I wrote last week that upgrading Vista over a copy of itself might violate Microsoft’s EULA (End-User License Agreement). Now I’m not so sure. Is it a violation to install the product in a way that Microsoft itself programmed the product to operate?
I’d like to acknowledge a couple of readers who wrote that it might be unethical to install the Vista upgrade without having purchased a previous version of the product. I agree. The clean-install method should only be used by people who did purchase a copy of XP or 2000, but can’t install the Vista upgrade over their copy for some legitimate reason (as described in the next section, below).
If Microsoft doesn’t want the clean-install method to work at all, the company can easily change its policy. The Redmond firm could simply code Vista Home Premium’s setup routine, for example, so it actually does check for XP, 2000, or a lower-priced edition of Vista, such as Vista Home Basic.
When a Vista clean install may be necessary
Reader George Walker describes several situations in which Microsoft technical support would need a back door to allow Vista to be installed without a running copy of Windows being present:
- “There are certain instances in which a person might not be able to install over an existing copy of XP or 2000.
“For example, say you own a PC from one of the name brands that only shipped with a hidden recovery partition but no CDs. (Several well-publicized class-action lawsuits were filed against these companies over this practice.) You are eligible for the upgrade, and so you purchase and install it. Three months from now, your hard drive fails. You cannot re-install your previous verson of XP — first, because you have no recovery CDs and, second, your recovery partition was lost with the hard drive failure.
“Microsoft’s support would really need a way around this scenario to avoid telling the customer that if they cannot restore their PC to its original installation, they will have to buy another copy of Vista. All you need is one widely publicized instance of some poor, sweet old lady on a fixed income being swindled by the blood-thirsty Microsoft beast to have a public relations nightmare. …
“Other scenarios might include replacing the motherboard in a name brand computer and having your original recovery CDs refusing to install because they no longer recognize the PC as the one for which they were intended. Microsoft had to have a workaround for such instances.”
This view is supported by a comment written by my “Windows Vista Secrets” co-author, Paul Thurrott, in the 8-step outline of the procedure that he published on Jan. 29. I tested the process and printed a complete, 11-step version of the procedure in my Feb. 1 article. Paul’s sources say that the Vista clean-install method is documented in the internal knowledge base that’s made available to Microsoft support people.
Upgrade trick works with MS Office, too
Reader Kent Hansen reports that Microsoft Office also upgrades itself over a nonactivated version of itself:
- “I was suprised to see last fall that if I took Microsoft up on the 60-day free MS Office trial link on my new Gateway notebook that turning the 60-day trial into a licensed version required only an ‘upgrade’ version of Office.
- “I believe it was Office 2000 that, when installing clean from an upgrade CD, would ask for a previous version CD. But if you told it to look (browse) the CD drive that had the upgrade you were installing, it would find itself and accept it as proof of a “previous version”! I suspect this trick works on a number of MS products, actually.
Vista’s behavior of installing its upgrade version over any install of Vista looks more and more like a deliberate decision on Microsoft’s part to make the install easy and less expensive than the full version of its software. The full version increasingly resembles the “golden casket” that undertakers routinely show to bereaved family members. No one expects the family to actually buy the gold-plated model, but it makes the other models seem less overpriced.
European prices for Vista seem jacked-up
Our readers in the United Kingdom are reporting that Microsoft is charging inflated prices for Windows Vista that are the same numbers in pounds as Americans are paying in dollars. That represents almost double the U.S. price. As Chris Bunton puts it:
- “How about highlighting Microsoft’s outrageous differential pricing internationally? For instance, in the U.K., the Vista Home Premium upgrade is priced at GBP 149.99 — that’s $294.58 at current rates, and a whopping 88.8% premium over the U.S. price.
“Bill Gates on U.K. TV pretended there is little difference, except for short-term exchange-rate differences, which was really rather disingenuous.
“When there is so much gouging of the market, who is surprised that honest consumers are keen to use any trick in the book to get it at a reasonable price, or else just decide to pass on the upgrade idea? The story is the same for Office 2007.”
OEM versions and educational discounts to come
I said last week that I’d write about other ways to get Vista for less than full price. These include buying OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) versions and by using educational discounts.
I received so many great leads this week from my readers on the Vista upgrade process, however, that I couldn’t get to everything that I wanted to reveal about discount marketing channels. I’ll just say again that buying the OEM version of Windows doesn’t qualify the buyer to receive telephone support from Microsoft. Buying a retail package in a store usually does. I promise to cover these topics and more in the next few weeks.
Readers Walker, Hansen, Harris, and Bunton will receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of their choice for being the first to send me tips that I printed.
Brian Livingston is editorial director of the Windows Secrets Newsletter and the co-author of Windows Vista Secrets and 10 other books.