Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

Microsoft Closes Oft-Abused 'Upgrade' Loophole

The big Vista-related story going around the net today is the news that Microsoft has closed the installation loophole in the "Upgrade" editions of Windows Vista.

Here's the short version: in the past, people could purchase "Upgrade" editions of Windows, and complete a "clean" installation, as long as you provided the CD for the version you're attempting to upgrade. The problem with this is, with the advent of ISOs and millions of bootleg copies of Windows XP floating around the net, this method was increasingly unreliable.

So Microsoft is now requiring that Windows XP is already completely installed on the system before upgrading to Vista. As this MS Knowledge Base article states, "Upgrade keys cannot be used for a clean installation." But every Vista installation is a clean install, even if it's an upgrade. So it's not quite as big a deal as everyone makes it out to be.

Most enthusiasts are up in arms over this change. Well... cry me a river. I've used this loophole in the past. To be honest, I was planning on using it again, until today. But it's not any of our right to abuse a system that was designed to make it easier for people who were upgrading existing installations. It's not like the loophole is totally closed. You can always Ghost a clean installation of XP and run your Vista upgrade after that. Shave at least an hour off of your install time.

But come on... you didn't think the loophole was going to be open forever, did you? You should have seen this one coming.

UPDATE: In related news, a Microsoft rep answered questions on the OEM pricing and support model with ExtremeTech. Highlights include information about the legality of buying OEM copies of Vista through (it's OK) and Vista's tolerance of hardware changes (it's more tolerant than XP). [via ActiveWin]



  • GRLT said:

    I'm glad to see that tis doesn't affect Ultimate edition which would be the majority of the people who would use this method regularly.  I don't see what's wrong with finding a way to make the old method secure, like requiring both the CD/DVD *AND* the old Product Key.

    January 29, 2007 5:44 AM
  • Fred Malone said:

    What I want to know is what happens if my hard drive crashes and I need to reinstall.  Are you telling me that I have to install Windows XP before I can reinstall Vista?  That is just plain ridiculous.  

    January 29, 2007 7:39 AM
  • Zach said:

    I love how this story breaks a matter of hours before launch and a matter of hours before preorders are shipped, like my $250 copy of the Ultimate edition upgrade that intended to clean install with one of my 4 copies of XP I've bought over the years. I hope this issue doesn't affect Ultimate edition buyers. If it does, then MS has just lost a loyal customer.

    January 29, 2007 8:25 AM
  • GRLT said:


    Please be sure to let us know when you get it.


    What if the upgrade is for a retail copy of XP, and someone builds a new PC, transfers their XP licence and then finds out that the new PC is not XP compatible, just Vista.  Does this person then have to go and get a new retail licence even though they meet the licensing requirements.

    I can't see Microsoft leaving customers out in the cold, they might have to set up a scenario for the support center.

    January 29, 2007 12:08 PM
  • GRLT: How would a computer be Vista compatible but not XP compatible?

    January 29, 2007 1:22 PM
  • Mihai said:

    <<GRLT: How would a computer be Vista compatible but not XP compatible?>>

    Easy. See here (from the "Dell is Hell, Part Two," on this very site):

    <<Great. Just great. I’ve purchased a computer that has a “Windows Vista Capable” sticker slapped on the front of the chassis and is touted as being a high-end performer for Windows Vista…. and yet Windows Vista won’t actually install on it.>>

    So, you really cannot see a computer Vista compatible that is not XP compatible? Really?

    Have you started using PCs yesterday?

    January 29, 2007 4:05 PM
  • GRLT said:

    Say you have a PC that originally had a dual core processor (x64 capable) with 2GB of ram, and you install a new retail copy of XP Pro on it.  Next you upgrade to Vista, then down the road, 8 GB of ram and some other hardware that XP Pro doesn't support.  Then the PC dies and you can't install XP Pro to upgrade from.

    You are now up a creek and have to buy a new copy of Vista.  

    I can't see Microsoft not having thought of this scenario. Because you bought the XP retail you can move the license to the "new" computer. Hopefully this is addressed before people are locked out of their Windows Vista DVDs. (Maybe there is already a process.)

    January 29, 2007 10:11 PM
  • Mihai said:

    Hi GRLT,

    I know full well that a computer compatible with Windows X can be incompatible with Windows X-1. The post was for Robert McLaws, who was wondering how would this be possible.

    My guess is the he started using a PC about the time when Windows XP was released, and never "suffered" through a transition :-)

    January 30, 2007 2:53 AM
  • Jason said:

    Well I received my copy of Vista Ultimate from Amazon (UK) this morning and I can confirm that you can't do a clean install of Vista Ultimate either.  I even tried installing without a product key and then adding it later once Vista was installed but the same message appears (this key is only valid for an upgrade licence).  This is stupid and for it to break the day before Vista was released must be because MS knew the storm it would create.  As for supporting Vista but not XP I'm now in that boat as I need to load my RAID drivers before I can install XP and XP can only add drivers from a floppy drive which I don't have!!

    January 30, 2007 5:48 PM
  • Jason said:

    Paul Thurrott has a workaround for this which I'm about to try:

    Install Vista without a product key (make sure you select the version you own)

    When Vista is installed do an in-place upgrade using the Vista DVD again (use key)

    Will report back shortly...

    January 30, 2007 5:52 PM
  • Jason said:

    Well I can confirm that if you do a clean install of Vista without a product key and after that installation is complete re-run setup from within Vista using the DVD that you can then enter your product key and proceed to do either an upgrade (I did this and it seems clean enough) or do a full clean install (existing files from the first install are then copied to Windows.old which you can then delete).

    Seems that this work-around simply means that us honest people just have to jump through hoops and to me MS gains nothing (a new self build computer can still use an upgrade even though the person owns no previous version).  Personally I own licences of 98 (free gift from MS after beta testing), Windows ME, Windows XP and now Vista Ultimate so I have a full upgrade path and yet I'm the one inconvenienced.

    January 30, 2007 7:39 PM
  • Zach said:

    Thanks for that info, Jason. My copy of Ultimate is ont he truck for delivery right now, but I've been considering whether to even open the package so I can return it. If there are workarounds, then that's good, but like so many others, I have multiple legitimate copies of previous versions of Windows. We should be able to do a clean install if we want to without having to install an older OS first. I prefer my install to be clean and not an overwrite of older files...

    Anyone know if you can clean install x64? I've been debating whether to give it a try or not...

    January 31, 2007 9:11 AM
  • February 4, 2007 1:18 PM