Windows Vista “Upgrade” Version, Never Pay For The Full Version
By Brian Livingston, Author
of “Windows Vista Secrets”
people are upset by the fact that the economical "upgrade" version of
Vista won't accept a Windows XP or Windows 2000 CD-ROM as proof of
Vista Upgrade is said to install only to a hard disk that already has
2000 already on it.
I've tested a method that allows you to clean-install the Vista upgrade
on any hard drive, with no prior XP or W2K installation — or even a CD
SAVE MONEY BY AVOIDING
THE “FULL” VERSION OF WINDOWS VISTA
Vista, in my opinion, is a big improvement over Windows XP in many
the new operating system is distinctly overpriced.
list price of the "full" (not "upgrade") version of the
most expensive edition, Vista Ultimate, is $399.95 USD, with a street
around $380. That gold-plated retail figure is only possible because
long ago achieved monopoly pricing power in the PC operating system
computer users would prefer to keep using an older version of Windows,
XP, rather than paying the inflated prices for the "full" version of
Vista. To encourage switching to a new OS, Microsoft has historically
lower, "upgrade" price to people who can prove that they've
previously purchased an older copy of Windows. The difference between
full and upgrade prices can be substantial. Based on the asking prices
Shopping.com on Jan. 31 — the day after the consumer version of Vista
available — the four most popular Vista versions will set you back
approximately as follows:
Version Upgrade Pricing
Home Basic $192 $100 ($92 less)
Home Premium $228 $156 ($72 less)
Business $285 $192 ($93 less)
Ultimate $380 $225 ($155 less)
upgrade versions of Vista have street prices that are 32% to 48%
the full versions. If you're truly installing Vista over an old
instance of XP
or W2K, the upgrade version of Vista will find the older OS on your
and install without question. The problem is that Vista, unlike every
of Windows in the past, doesn't let you insert a physical disc from an
operating system as evidence of your previous purchase. Vista has an
undocumented feature, however, that actually allows you to "clean
install" Vista to a hard disk that has no prior copy of XP or W2K.
Use Vista's 'upgrade' version to
secret is that the setup program in Vista's upgrade version will accept
installed copy of XP, W2K, or an unactivated copy of Vista itself as
of a previous installation.
enables you to "clean install" an upgrade version of Vista to any
formatted or unformatted hard drive, which is usually the preferred
installing any new operating system. You must, in essence, install
to take advantage of this trick. But Vista installs much faster than
it's quicker than installing XP followed by Vista to get the upgrade
you install Vista on a machine that you don't know is 100% compatible,
should run Microsoft's free Upgrade Advisor. This program — which
on 32-bit versions of XP and Vista (plus Vista Enterprise) — reports to
any hardware or software it finds that may be incompatible with Vista.
Microsoft's Upgrade Advisor page.
to see which flavors of XP Home, XP Pro, and 2000 officially support
installs and clean installs of the different Vista editions, see
upgrade paths page. Here's a simplified overview of the steps that are
to clean-install the upgrade version of Vista:
Step 1. Boot the PC from the Vista DVD.
Step 2. Select "Install Now,"
but do not enter the Product Key from the Vista packaging. Leave the
blank. Also, turn off the option Automatically activate Windows when
online. In the next dialog box that appears, confirm that you really do
install Vista without entering a Product Key.
Step 3. Correctly indicate the version of
Vista that you're installing: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, or
Step 4. Select the "Custom
(Advanced)" install, not the "Upgrade" install.
Step 5. Vista copies files at length and
reboots itself one or more times. Wait for the install to complete. At
point, you might think that you could "activate" Vista, but you
can't. That's because you haven't installed the Vista upgrade yet. To
run the DVD's setup.exe program again, but
time from the Vista desktop. The easiest way to start setup again is to
and then reinsert the DVD.
Step 6. Click "Install Now."
Select Do not get the latest updates for installation. (You can check
Step 7. This time, do enter the Product
Key from the Vista packaging. Once
again, turn off the option Automatically
activate Windows when I'm online.
Step 8. On this second install, make sure
to select "Upgrade," not "Custom (Advanced)." You're not
doing a clean install now, you're upgrading to Vista.
Step 9. Wait while Vista copies files and
reboots itself. No user interaction is required. Do not boot from the
asked if you'd like to do so. Instead, wait a few seconds and the setup
will continue on its way. Some DOS-like, character-mode menus will
don't interact with them. After a few seconds, the correct choice will
Step 10. After you click a button labeled
Start in the Thank You dialog box, Vista's login screen will eventually
Enter the username and password that you selected during the first
You're done upgrading to Vista.
Step 11. Within 30 days, you must
"activate" your copy of Vista or it'll lose functionality. To
activate Vista, click Show more details in the Welcome Center that
automatically displays upon each boot-up, then click Activate Windows
you've dismissed the Welcome Center, access the correct dialog box by
Start, Control Panel, System & Maintenance, System. If you
purchased a legitimate
copy of Vista, it should quickly activate over the Internet. (You can
activate by calling Microsoft on the phone, which avoids your PC
information with Microsoft's server.)
not going into detail today on the merits of buying Vista at retail
buying a cheaper OEM copy. (The OEM offerings don't entitle you to call
Microsoft for support, while the retail packages do.) Also, I'm not
here on the least-expensive way to buy Vista, which is to take
Microsoft's "educational" rate. I'll describe both of these topics in
next week's newsletter.
Why does Vista's
secret setup exist?
reasonable for us to ask ourselves whether buying an upgrade version of
and then installing it to an empty hard disk that contains no previous
of Windows, is ethical. I believe it is. Microsoft itself created the
process. The company designed Vista to support upgrading it over a
installed copy of XP, W2K Pro, or Vista itself. This isn't a black-hat
exploit. It's something that's been deliberately programmed into the
spent years developing and testing Vista. This upgrade trick must have
known to many, many people within the development team. Either
planned this upgrade path all along, knowing that computer magazines
newsletters (like this one) would widely publicize a way to "save money
buying Vista." Or else some highly placed coders within the Vista
development team decided that Vista's "full" price was too high and
that no one should ever have to pay it. In either case, Vista's
Microsoft's official install routine, and I see no problem with using
exactly as it was designed.
should also think about whether instances of Vista that were installed
the clean-install method will continue to operate. I believe that this
will continue to be present in Vista DVDs at least until Microsoft
distributing the Service Pack 1 edition of Vista around fall 2007.
routine in the millions of DVDs that are now in circulation would
simply be too
wrenching. And trying to remotely disable instances of Vista that were
clean-installed — even if it were technically possible to distinguish
would generate too many tech-support calls and too much ill will to
the upgrade version of Vista, but not installing over an existing
XP or W2K, probably violates the Vista EULA (end-user license
you're a business executive, I wouldn't recommend that you flout any
license provisions just to save money.
you're strictly a home user, contributing editor Susan Bradley points
Microsoft's so-called Vista Family Discount (VFD) is an economical
avoids any license issues. If you buy a retail copy of Vista Ultimate,
you upgrade up to two additional PCs to Vista Home Premium for $50
example, if you buy the upgrade version of Ultimate for $225, the grand
after you add two Home Premiums is $335. That's about $133 less than
three upgrade versions of Home Premium. Details are at Microsoft's VFD
did revise a Knowledge Base article, number 930985, on Jan. 31 that
refers to the upgrade situation. It simply states that an upgrade
Vista can't perform a clean install when a PC is booted from the Vista
clean install will only work, the document says, when the Vista setup
from within an older version of Windows (or if a full version of Vista
article doesn't at all deal with the fact that the Vista upgrade
in fact clean-install using the steps described above. It'll be
see whether MS ever explains why these steps were programmed in.
consider Vista's ability to upgrade over itself to be Digital Rights
that actually benefits consumers. It's almost cosmic justice.
invite my readers to test Vista's undocumented clean-install method for
themselves. There certainly must be aspects of this setup routine that
haven't yet discovered. I'll print the best findings from those sent in
contact page. You'll receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD
choice if you're the first to send in a tip that I print.
I'd like to thank my co-author
Vista Secrets, Paul Thurrott, for his research help in bringing the
clean-install method to light.