Microsoft prepares Windows Anytime Upgrade, v2

Microsoft prepares Windows Anytime Upgrade, v2

Summary: More than three years ago, Microsoft introduced its Windows Anytime Upgrade program in a beta release of Windows Vista. In practice, Anytime Upgrade was a spectacular failure. The upgrade process itself was a cumbersome kludge, the price tag was way too high, and there was no perceived benefit in it. Like so many Vista features that were poorly executed, Anytime Upgrade has been completely reworked for Windows 7. Will it be enough to get you to upgrade?


Way back in February 2006, nearly a year before the consumer launch of Windows Vista, I noted the first appearance of Microsoft’s Windows Anytime Upgrade program in a Vista beta build. The theory behind Anytime Upgrade was a good one: if you bought a PC with one edition of Windows installed, you could upgrade online and get additional features.

In practice, the Vista version of Anytime Upgrade was a spectacular failure. The upgrade process itself was a cumbersome kludge that required physical media and a full Windows reinstall (a process that can take hours), the price tag was way too high, and there was no perceived benefit in it.

Fast forward to 2009. Windows Anytime Upgrade will be available in Windows 7 when it's publicly released in a few months, and like so many Vista features that were good ideas, poorly executed, it has been completely reworked. What’s changed? I took a close look at a recent beta to see for myself. Here's what I found.

When you buy a new consumer PC running Windows Vista today, you probably get Home Premium Edition. That’s going to be the most popular OEM edition when Windows 7 comes out as well. So what if you want features such as Offline Files and the ability to join a Windows domain, which are found in Vista Business edition or its successor, Windows 7 Professional? With Vista, you have to shell out $150 for an upgrade to Ultimate edition. With Windows 7, the upgrade paths are easier.

As I noted earlier this year, “each edition is a superset of the one before it. That means you can upgrade from, say, Home Premium to Professional by purchasing an upgrade key and then ‘unlocking’ the additional features.”

Earlier this month, I installed a recent build of Windows 7 and tried out the Anytime Upgrade procedure for myself. The process is, as promised, remarkably easy. I’ve put together a screen-shot gallery to illustrate the process. Here’s how it works:

1. Go to the System Properties page in Control Panel, where you can see which edition is currently installed. In this case, I have Windows 7 Professional installed. However, this process would also work with Windows 7 Starter Edition or Home Premium.

2. Click the link to “get more features with a new edition of Windows 7.”

3. Buy the upgrade from Microsoft or from a partner, such as the OEM who manufactured your PC. The top link ("Go online and choose an edition") won’t work until Windows 7 is released and the various purchase channels are enabled, obviously.

4. Enter the Anytime Upgrade product key.

5. Go do something else for 10 minutes or so, while the system is being upgraded. The system will restart automatically as part of the upgrade.

6. When the upgrade is complete, click to begin using the new features.

What was remarkable about this process is that it didn’t require me to insert the original installation media or download any code. It simply unlocked the features in the upgraded edition, and it really did take only a few minutes to complete.

The devil, as always, is in the details. In this case, the most important missing detail is price. If Microsoft can offer easy upgrades from Starter to Home Premium and from Home Premium to Professional for $49 or less, this is a great way for Microsoft to boost the average selling price of Windows (a metric that adds directly to the bottom line) and give customers value. On the other hand, if those upgrades are priced too high, as in $99 or more, then fuggedaboutit.

The other missing piece of the Anytime Upgrade puzzle is a list of added features that Windows customers will be willing to pay upgrade dollars for. Back in February, Microsoft promised to share details about the features that will be in each edition of Windows 7. With a release candidate just around the corner, those decisions must have been made already. So why won’t Microsoft make the details public?

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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  • I read somewhere...

    I read somewhere that the price of the Anytime upgrade will simply be the difference between the in store MSRP of the edition you're upgrading from and the edition you're upgrading to.

    From everything I've seen and read Microsoft is doing better than I ever expected with the roll out of Windows 7. If they can get this right also it will make everything just that much better.
    • it will be

      I'm almost certain it will be even if we haven't heard of it because if it's not, people will just take advantage of WAU instead of paying the full price MS wants you to pay
  • It will be quite a relief

    to know you can buy whatever PC you like without having to concern yourself with whether or not it only come in Home Premium. I can't tell you how many times I've looked at the specs of a PC and think how perfect it is, only to find it does not come in the SKU I want (which is usually Pro/Business).

    If this is made easy and does not cost the customer more than it would if their SKU of choice was preinstalled, I would imagine just about all PCs would be sold with Home initially and upgraded as needed once it comes out of the box. And that's good for everybody, even MS, because people who can get exactly what they want are more certain to actually make a purchase.
    Michael Kelly
  • Taking a cue from shareware

    Unless I misunderstood, this means that all features are installed on your computer with any W7 installation, but you just purchase the rights to use them.

    If you're using Home Edition, wouldn't all this extra stuff just be a lot of wasted space?
    • It's been this way for years

      The extra features don't use all that much space. Most of the disk space usage in Windows 7 is from tens of thousands of drivers and support files.
      Ed Bott
      • I wonder how MS will retail package the new Win

        It might make sense just to have one standard W7 box, and the consumer can buy whatever license he or she wants from either the front counter or online. Such a system could reduce the kind of confusion that surrounds an array of different W7 boxes.
  • RE: Microsoft prepares Windows Anytime Upgrade, v2

    There's another side to the experience that you've, perhaps, overlooked. I remember trying to upgrade a friend's Vista laptop to Ultimate only to be stuck waiting for over a week for the OEM to ship her the new product key... so much for *minutes* away from new functionality!

    A truly great experience would be this-- you select Microsoft as the source and yout get the "retail" cost of upgrading and a key generated automatically, OR you select your OEM and get OEM-based upgrade pricing... all you do is enter the OEM serial number or some other confirmation of the OEM discount being legit, and voila-- OEM price confirmed, and the new key is generated electronically during the process.
    • That is how it's supposed to work

      Obviously we won't know till after release, but you are supposed to be able to buy a key from a third party (Amazon, etc.) or purchase directly from MS with no delay. You should get a key instantly.

      I know this purchjase process has been beta tested (not by me) and I have head nothing but positive reports about how well it works.
      Ed Bott
  • None of this would be needed if....

    If Microsoft sold one version of Win 7, none of this would be an issue. Every PC would come with every part of the OS you could possibly need into the future. Every copy of the OS you bought in a store would have everything, as well. There would be no possible complications from botched upgrades. There would be no unforeseen expenses when you suddenly realize at 2AM on a Saturday that you need the ability to log into the domain at work and your crippled version of Win 7 can't do that.

    I know everyone is sick of hearing it, but I'll keep singing this song forever. Sell one complete version for one reasonable price. Period.

    Are you listening Microsoft? Let US choose what to leave out instead of us wasting our time trying to figure out precisely what YOU left out. Make all of our lives easier.
    • That would be less profitable

      I'd prefer a single, standard version too, but if MS reduces the feature set in a basic installation, they get greater market penetration with reduced price and OEM installs. These basic installs then make for good soft sells on upgrades, especially for business. Having different price points helps them target different customers.

      In principle, I agree, but I don't think a move like that would make business sense for them.
    • MS would gladly do that

      if only the US and EU governments would let them.

      The reason they don't is because not everybody wants to pay for extra programs that aren't necessary to run a computer. And whatever "fair" price MS chooses, the people who only want the base system are going to be paying just as much for programs they do not want or need as the people who do want them. Not only that, but not charging extra for those things leverages these programs using the Windows monopoly (which Windows has been judged to be in the US civil courts) which would interfere with the sale of third party programs.

      So yes, it looks nice on the surface to sell only one SKU if you like all the software. And many people do. But not everybody, and unfortunately for MS they have to play by monopoly rules with Windows.
      Michael Kelly
      • Agreed.

        I just purchased a new system and I specifically went with Vista Home Basic. I looked at the feature set of the other version of Vista and realized I do not, and will not, use any of them beyond what's in Home Basic. Since I was buying a Dell 'scratch and dent', upgrading to Ultimate would have cost more than the hardware itself.
    • Your "reasonable cost"

      Would you agree that Microsoft shareholders are probably interested in this decision? (I'm not one, btw.)

      As a publicly traded for-profit company, Microsoft wants to maximize its revenue. To maintain the revenue would require setting the price at an average of what it is now across all versions. That would mean:

      * a significant increase (in % terms) for price-sensitive buyers choosing PCs in the low price ranges.

      * a very modest decrease for performance- and feature-conscious buyers who currently pay for advanced versions.

      So, basically, you're asking to impose heavy tax on those who can least afford it and give a tiny discount to those who can afford to pay full price. Is that what you really wanted?
      Ed Bott
  • RE: Microsoft prepares Windows Anytime Upgrade, v2

    They should add features like booting from VHD, AppLocker and BitLocker to professional edition of Windows 7
  • There is an SKU Chart

    Ed, they have kind of. Go to Google and type in Windows 7 SKU Chart then look in images. It was published on an MS blog and then withdrawn the next day.
    • I know, but it's not official

      That was a preliminary chart (I had a copy under NDA and then it got yanked). I'm told that some of the features might have been changed since then.
      Ed Bott
  • Available outside US this time?

    Version 1 of the Anytime Upgrade happily took me through the upgrade process to go from Vista Home Premium to Ultimate only to tell me at the point of upgrade that the 'service' was not available in my region, Australia. Such US-centric thinking is tedious from a supposedly global corporation.
    Instead I opted for a Technet membership and I have access to every version of Windows and Office, current and previous, for the cost of a single retail license.
    • Details not yet announced

      The international market is huge for Microsoft, and given how they've fixed the mistakes of Vista Anytime Upgrade I would expect they've addressed this one, but who knows.

      As for TechNet, it's a marvelous deal, but its licenses are for evaluation only. Technically (yeah, I know) you can't use your TechNet licenses on a business machine.
      Ed Bott
    • US-centric...or not...

      "Such US-centric thinking is tedious from a supposedly global corporation." That's just Microsoft centric thinking. Sometimes it simply defies logic.
  • Off topic a little but does this have

    anything to do with the In place Upgrade/Repair Install they had in Vista? I'd sure like to see the old "Repair Install" return, it was a much better way to repair Windows when the system became corrupted.