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

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?
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

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.


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.

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