First Look: Microsoft Blocks XP-to-Windows 7 Beta Upgrades

It does, however, permit upgrades from Vista SP1 to Windows 7.

A Microsoft spokesman said that no final decisions have yet been made about what will be included or not included in the generally available version of Windows 7, but that the company as a practice advises only clean installations of operating systems during the beta phase anyway.

For now, the beta version of Windows 7 only permits upgrades from Vista SP1 -- meaning there is at the moment no way to test or evaluate a straight XP-to-Windows 7 migration.

"We've just been telling people like we always do, conduct a clean install. That's the safest bet anyway," the spokesman said. "It shouldn't be too much of a surprise."

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Microsoft announced late Wednesday night in Las Vegas that it was making its first beta version of its next generation desktop OS available via Technet and MSDN, and CEO Steve Ballmer said the general public would have access to the beta -- for free-- as of Friday. The beta will work through August of this year, giving virtually the entire market an opportunity to play around with it and evaluate Windows 7 before they have to pay for it.

The Test Center's first look at Windows 7 in beta form found:

-- Attempts to upgrade from XP were met by a warning that: "To upgrade to Windows 7, the computer needs to be running Vista with Service Pack 1 (SP1) or later. Upgrading from Windows XP to any edition of Windows 7 is not supported;"

-- On the same PC test bed, performance measured by Primate Labs' Geekbench 2.1 benchmarking software indicates that performance deteriorates slightly on the same PC from Windows XP to Windows Vista Ultimate to Windows 7 Ultimate;

-- Once Vista SP1 is installed and running, the upgrade from Vista Ultimate to Windows 7 Ultimate took an hour and 16 minutes. It is an extremely smooth upgrade -- something that could be a relief to a channel and a market that suffered extreme headaches in trying to go from XP to Vista. Compared to complaints from the market during previous OS upgrades, Vista-to-Windows 7 is a breeze, introduces subtle-but-nice interface changes and provides refreshingly strong support for several basic drivers and applications.

Our test bed was built with an AMD Phenom 9550 Quad-Core processor at 2.20GHz, 4 GB of RAM, an Nvidia 6100 nForce 4300 card. In our upgrade from Vista Ultimate to Windows 7 Ultimate, we included, among other applications, Firefox 3.0, Google Chrome and Safari browsers; Microsoft Office 2007; WordPerfect Office X4; Skype; the Digsby IM client; a FireFox plug-in, Ubiquity; and a new, free application made available this week, from Tech Smith, called "Jing," which provides for image and video desktop screen captures. Adobe Flash player was also on the Vista system.

Following the upgrade, every single application worked as it should. Skype in Windows 7 did come with a compatibility warning, but upon opening it up and trying it out, it worked just fine.

Microsoft did provide a warning to back up any .mp3 files before upgrading from Vista to Windows 7; however, the upgrade went through and the .mp3 files we had on the system survived just fine.

Once installed, Windows 7 found easy access to a shared drive on the Test Center network. Once the driver for the Oki Data printer in the lab was installed, printing from the Windows 7 PC over the network was happily uneventful.

A note of caution, though: If you try to upgrade a Vista PC and you haven't yet installed SP 1 and all essential updates from Microsoft, the process could take an additional two hours. It did for us, so keep that in mind if you're planning to try the Vista to Windows 7 Beta 1 upgrade.

More testing on Windows 7 will be needed to evaluate its security, network management and support for more applications and drivers. But at first blush, the upgrade that caused so many tempers to flare during the last OS release seems to have been alleviated greatly this time around.

It remains to be seen, however, how the market will respond if Microsoft continues to deny an upgrade from XP to Windows 7.