Microsoft Haunted By Windows 7 Upgrade Issue

For the past several months, Windows 7 testers have been asking Microsoft for technical details on Windows 7 upgrades, but have heard nothing but crickets from Redmond. So Microsoft bloggers have taken matters into their own hands by publishing detailed workarounds for clean installing Windows 7 using upgrade media, something Microsoft says is illegal.

On Tuesday, Eric Ligman, global partner experience lead in Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group, suggested that these bloggers are advocating behavior that violates Microsoft's software licensing terms. Paul Thurrott, author of the Supersite For Windows blog, fired back at Microsoft on Thursday and said the company should have clearly documented the issue months ago.

"I'm not endorsing piracy. Obviously. I'm just trying to support the millions of people that Microsoft fooled into pre-ordering Windows 7 by offering steep discounts, only to discover later that the Upgrade version they purchased unknowingly might not actually install properly," Thurrott wrote in a blog post.

Ed Bott, another noted Microsoft blogger, believes the lack of communication from Microsoft on this issue has worrisome implications.

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"Does Microsoft not understand that information abhors a vacuum and that the most likely outcome of stonewalling on this issue is that people will simply make stuff up or post inflammatory (and wrong) conclusions based on something that happened to a friend of some guy who posted on a message board?" Bott wrote in a blog post.

Microsoft couldn't be reached for comment on the Windows 7 upgrade hack issue, but it's safe to say the problem isn't going away anytime soon.

Microsoft faced the same issue with Windows Vista upgrades, and reacted in much the same way -- by insisting that the Vista upgrade workaround violated its licensing terms and claiming that anyone who used them could run into legal issues down the road. But while no one would argue that software piracy isn't a huge problem for Microsoft, the subtle threats of legal retribution could end up casting a dark cloud over the otherwise successful Windows 7 launch.

Andy Kretzer, director of sales and marketing at Bold Data Technology, a Fremont, Calif.-based system builder, said Microsoft has always treaded carefully when it comes to making any sort of alteration to its software licensing terms, for fear of providing a roadmap for circumventing them.

"Microsoft doesn't want to open loopholes in their licensing, and it's starting to show in the way they construct their licensing terms," said Kretzer. "Take XP downgrade rights for example. When you read the nitty gritty machinations that you have to follow, it becomes very complex."

Microsoft is in a no-win situation because it has to balance the need to fight software piracy with the needs of its customers, notes Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions On Microsoft, Kirkland, Wash.

"You always have this trade-off on how secure you make it, at the risk of making it too hard for average person to work with," Cherry said. "All of the mechanisms that are designed for improper use are an escalating war, and vendors will have to make sure that they don't put too many barriers in place for the people who want to do the right thing."