Dear Microsoft: What's the deal with Windows 7 upgrades?

Dear Microsoft: What's the deal with Windows 7 upgrades?

Summary: Did you just get a retail upgrade copy of Windows 7? Do you have questions about how it works? Sorry, I probably don't know the answers. And I can't point you to anyone who does know how this product works. Why is Microsoft refusing to publish or even discuss this subject?

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Microsoft is doing almost everything right with Windows 7. Rock-solid engineering, energetic marketing, great outreach to hardware and software partners. Microsoft bloggers actively share information and take feedback. Collectively, the company does everything you would expect from a smart company nearly a full decade into the 21st Century.

Almost.

One group at Microsoft seems to be stuck in 1999. For some inexplicable reason, the technical team responsible for packaging and manufacturing and selling Windows 7 has decided to clam up about a product it is selling by the truckload.

Did you just get a retail upgrade copy of Windows 7? Do you have questions about how it works? Sorry, I probably don't know the answers. And I can't point you to anyone who does know how this product works.

It's not for lack of trying. For three solid months, I have been pestering people at Microsoft and its PR agency for technical details on Windows 7 upgrade products. I got nothing but polite refusals. At the Windows 7 launch last week, I spent some quality time with fellow Windows expert Paul Thurrott, who told me his experience has been identical.

And now, a week later, still no comment.

In the run-up to the October 22 launch, my TechNet and MSDN memberships allowed me to download full copies of every retail edition of Windows 7. I also received an advanced box copy of Windows 7 Ultimate. I know how those full packaged products work and can answer questions with confidence based on months of hands-on experience.

But the upgrade media was literally impossible to acquire until last Thursday. Thanks to Amazon.com, I finally received the four copies of Windows 7 I ordered in July at Microsoft's special promotional prices: two copies each of the upgrade versions of Windows 7 Home Premium and Professional. Using one of those copies, I was able to do some preliminary, limited testing and write up my results.

I need to do a lot more testing before I can say with confidence that I understand how the upgrade versions of Windows 7 work. That task would be relatively straightforward if Microsoft had documented the product at MSDN and TechNet and even the OEM Partner Center in its usual thorough way. If that documentation existed, I could verify that its details are accurate and put together some testing scenarios to look for exceptions and gotchas.

But there is no documentation, so the only alternative is to reverse-engineer the upgrade process through controlled testing using a full matrix of hardware, previously installed software, and Windows editions.

Wish me luck: Reverse-engineering these procedures is a labor-intensive, time-consuming process. There are many combinations of PCs and Windows versions and multiple entry points to the upgrade process.

Nor is this sort of testing merely tedious. It's also destructive. The only way to confirm that an installation really and truly worked is to enter a product key and activate it. But as soon as you activate a Windows product key against Microsoft's servers, poof! It's marked as used and it no longer works the way a new, shrink-wrapped box and fresh product key will work. That's fine for a consumer, but it's a dealbreaker in a testing lab.

So what is the problem? How come this information is being guarded as if it were the GPS coordinates of the undisclosed location where the Secret Service keeps Vice Presidents? 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?

It is not like we are asking for the secret formula for Coca-Cola or blueprints to build a dirty bomb. This is documentation about a product that will be sold by the tens of millions in the next year. For the many people who provide official and unofficial support for Windows users, this is essential information.

Set it free, please.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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108 comments
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  • Yep, same here ...

    ... stonewalled at every turn.
    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • With you ...

      ... I can see, because you've been pulling on Microsoft's scab lately. But in Ed's case, I don't know why they would treat him like that.

      ^o^
      <br>
      n0neXn0ne
      • Believe it or not ...

        ... it makes little difference. The folks I deal with are all great and don't take anything personally. I don't go head-to-head on an individual basis, it's me vs. a company worth some quarter of a trillion dollars. :)
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
        • I can see why they're feeling picked-on

          [i]I don't go head-to-head on an individual basis, it's me vs. a company worth some quarter of a trillion dollars.[/i]

          Well, that or [i]lese majeste[/i].
          Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Ditto:

      Seeing the same thing, even from "softies" in the know.
      No_Ax_to_Grind
  • Message has been deleted.

    Fark
    • Message has been deleted.

      .
      n0neXn0ne
      • not me...

        Never touch the stuff.
        Fark
    • ???

      ???
      Hallowed are the Ori
      • Spoiler...

        It's the Naval Observatory in DC.
        Fark
        • nope... not a deep agent.

          (sigh) - didn't read the entire article, eh?

          "So what is the problem? How come this information is being guarded as if it were the GPS coordinates of the undisclosed location where the Secret Service keeps Vice Presidents?"
          Fark
    • Nice

      Glad someone got it...
      Ed Bott
      • thanks!

        Always there to lend a hand!
        Fark
  • Surprised...

    It's odd that they were so forth coming on so much and then didn't want to discuss this one area.

    Maybe they were worried people would harp on the lack of WinXP to Win7 upgrades?

    Or, worried people would try to engineer a patch to make they system actually do an inplace upgrade (Which MS said wasn't possible)?

    Very odd.
    Fark
    • Interestingly enough

      Interestingly enough, there are already a bunch of
      third party products (I tried PCmover upgrade
      assistant) that will go into the Windows.old
      folder and "finish" the upgrade from XP to Windows
      7.

      IMHO Microsoft was just being lazy in not
      supporting XP -> Win7 upgrades.
      CobraA1
      • Not laziness, IMO

        I think it was a risk-reward calculation. The process is fraught with problems, and the last thing they need is a significant number of upgraders going from XP to 7, failing in large or small way, and complaining about it.

        Better to take the hit up front then leave upgraders who could say that the new OS doesn't work.
        Ed Bott
        • If MS does it - it has to be perfect or everyone goes ape s&!t...

          Imagine MS putting a disclaimer on that piece of code. Imagine trying to make sure 100% of all third party software moved right? Might be a serious mess.

          Although, it WOULD be nice for MS to make sure my OFFICE 2007 moved right without reinstall!
          Fark
          • For the prices they charge...

            It better be right.
            Wintel BSOD
        • exactly right...

          The [u]LAST[/u] thing Microsoft needs/wants with Windows 7 is a black eye.
          Wolfie2K3
          • They are walking a thin line.

            If they are perceived to be (remain) customer unfriendly or leaving users to fend for themselves, that could be just as bad.
            They need to help users as much as possible.
            xuniL_z