Windows 7 Upgrade Spat Could Have Been Avoided


In the wake of Microsoft's Oct. 22 launch of Windows 7, many XP-using customers ran into problems trying to clean install Windows 7 using upgrade media. Microsoft permits customers to do this on PCs that have a previous version of Windows installed, but not on PCs with blank hard drives. Given the ubiquity of Windows, many customers that were legally entitled to use the Windows 7 upgrade were understandably frustrated when Windows 7 wouldn't activate.

On Microsoft's Small Business Community blog, which is run by Eric Ligman, global partner experience lead in Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group, one commenter summed up the situation in particularly eloquent fashion.

"This is the sort of information that many people at Microsoft should know. It is the sort of information that should transcend departments and divisions. It is the sort of information that should be in published documents, with clear explanations of steps to take in the event that a legal upgrade technically fails," wrote commenter 'Timmy'.

"What will it take for someone at Microsoft to take this question by the horns and just plain answer it directly? By the way, this question has gone unanswered for the duration of the Vista Beta, the Vista Release, the Windows 7 Beta, and the Windows 7 Release," wrote 'Timmy.'

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Microsoft still hasn't offered customers an explanation on how to work around this problem, even though doing so would have mitigated much of the anger that has arisen within the Windows user community and customer base. Ligman, for his part, has vowed to get an official answer from Microsoft on the issue.

Microsoft often says its main competition to Windows is pirated versions of Windows, so it makes sense that it wouldn't want to provide a roadmap for pirates by advocating workarounds. And the amount of money Microsoft stands to lose in this scenario isn't insignificant, given that Windows 7 Home Premium upgrade sells for $80 less than the full version, and the Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate upgrades are $100 less than full price.

"Sure, some people will indeed play games with the system, using cheaper upgrade media rather than full versions to install Windows 7 improperly," said Paul DeGroot, an analyst with Directions On Microsoft, Kirkland, Wash.

However, aside from Windows Product Activation, Microsoft builds very little technical enforcement of licensing into Windows. And it's worth noting that for Microsoft, having customers buy Windows 7 upgrades is a good thing. Microsoft has developed Windows 7 to allow it to run on older hardware, and the many discounts it's offering with Windows 7 shows its desire to get customers to upgrade older computers, even if it results in lower margins.

According to DeGroot, this was a major problem with Vista that Microsoft is looking to fix in Windows 7. "Vista couldn't run on older hardware, and that made it less of a financial success because Microsoft only got the revenue from new PC sales," he said.

Microsoft is plenty capable of developing a mechanism to make it possible for legitimate users to clean install Windows 7 upgrade media without opening the door to greater piracy, says Bob Nitrio, CEO of Ranvest Associates, an Orangevale, Calif.-based technology consultant. But because Microsoft hasn't listened to customers and partners on the Windows 7 upgrade issue, much of the criticism it's receiving is justified, he adds.

"At some point, Microsoft needs to start trusting its customers again instead of assuming that they're all criminals," Nitrio said.