Upgrade versions of Vista won’t allow for clean installs.

Well this is a big disappointment. It seems if you purchase any of the Upgrade versions of Vista, which are cheaper than full retail versions but requires you to have a valid Windows 2000 or Windows XP license already, you won’t be able to load the upgrade on an empty hard disk. Otherwise known as doing a clean install:

Vista “upgrade” drops compliance checking, requires old OS to install – ArsTechnica.com

What does all of this mean on a practical level? Users who purchase upgrade copies of the aforementioned versions of Vista will find that they can only upgrade PCs that already have Windows installed. KB930985 clearly states: “you cannot use an upgrade key to perform a clean installation of Windows Vista.” According to Microsoft, this happens because Windows Vista does not check for upgrade compliance. If you do not have a previous installation of Windows available, Microsoft recommends that you “purchase a license that lets you perform a clean installation of Windows Vista.”

For its part, Microsoft seems to be confident that the Vista repair process should be sufficient to solve any problems with the OS, since otherwise the only option for disaster recovery in the absence of backups would be to wipe a machine, install XP, and then upgrade to Vista. This will certainly make disaster recovery a more irritating experience.

Fortunately, the change will not mean that users cannot install Windows Vista to a new directory. Windows Vista’s upgrade process includes the option of backing up previous installations, and in fact, in some scenarios a “clean” upgrade is required. “Clean” or not, the requirement that the previous OS be installed puts a bit of a damper on those of us that like the do periodic system refreshes.

As someone who periodically restages his PC this is rather annoying. Fortunately there’s always the OEM route which tends to be cheaper than a standard retail license anyway and isn’t affected by this change. Still it’s something to be aware of if you’re considering purchasing any of the upgrade versions of Vista.

22 thoughts on “Upgrade versions of Vista won’t allow for clean installs.

  1. Upgrade versions of Windows have always been like that. That’s why I always shell out the extra bucks for the full install version. The full installs run better as well, because they don’t have the artifacts of previous installs under them.

  2. Windoze ‘95 upgrade came with everything you needed for a full install – it would ask you for “proof” of installation media for 3.1 during installation.  We used to sell the upgrade with a copy of the first 3.1 diskette.

    Yeah, good times – heh.

  3. I think the first upgrade I ever tried to work with was 98, but as I remember the upgrade edition actually used components from the existing 95 install. I just assumed that all upgrades worked like that. If not, what exactly is the difference between an upgrade disc and a full install disc?

  4. KPG, until Vista you could use an upgrade disc to do a full install without the previous OS being on your hard drive, you just had to stick the CD-ROM for the previous version in for a moment to let it verify that it was legit.

  5. Well, hell.

    That’s several hundred bucks wasted on installs over the last decade. Where were you guys back in ‘98?  confused

    And that knowledge is just in time to not do me any good since I have no intention of subjecting myself to Vista.

  6. A few notes:

    1. Vista is nice.  I’ve been running the final version since late October, since I have MSDN Universal through work.

    2. To use an upgrade disk, you can install a previous version of Windows in a different directory.  For example, grab an old Win2000 disk and install it to C:\WINNT.  Then install Vista Upgrade to C:\WINDOWS, and delete the WINNT directory which is not longer used.

    3. As far as reimaging goes, it’s worth it to take a “clean install” image first thing after you install.  Vista actually has a Ghost-type utility built in, which can image your boot partition to a .VHD file.  You can restore this image using just the bootable Vista install disk.

    4. I believe the OEM version only allows for one “major upgrade”.  OEM copies are supposed to be tied to the hardware they’re installed on; that’s why they’re cheaper than the full version.  You can pay full price for a copy of Vista usable forever, or you can get a steep discount for a copy tied to your hardware.  Which is a better deal depends on how often you build a new computer.  Speaking for myself, my machine hasn’t changed since late 2000.  An OEM copy of XP would have been a good idea for me; if you build a new machine every year, OEM is not the way to go.

    5. Also I believe the OEM versions can’t be upgraded to whatever comes after Vista.  Of course, if Microsoft takes another 5 years to get the next Windows out the door, who cares about upgrading?

  7. Daryl Cantrell: my machine hasn’t changed since late 2000

    That should say late 2002.  Bad Daryl.

    To those who think Vista will require expensive new hardware: it doesn’t.  I have a well-built DIY Shuttle box with a Radeon 9700 Pro and 2 gigs of RAM.  Everything flies with the visual effects turned all the way up.  I didn’t even have to crank them; Vista did its video tests and maxed them out itself.

    The only machines which will have trouble with Vista are ones with integrated graphics chips (never buy these), and those with paltry system RAM.  I’m guessing a lot of notebooks will suffer, because in the Windows world they are often build with anemic chipset-based graphics.  Even three-year-old notebooks should do fine if they have a discrete 3D chip.  One good thing to come out of Vista will be that manufacturers like Dell will probably move away from underpowered graphics chips on their notebooks.

  8. Daryl’s right about the OEM version being tied to a motherboard. The folks at ArsTechnica.com have a Q&A on OEM version of Vista up at their site. A snippet:

    There are some gotchas, though. OEM software cannot be returned once opened. There are no exceptions. You open it, you’ve bought it.

    OEM software is also tied to the motherboard it is first installed on. Unlike the retail versions of Windows which can be transferred to a new computer, OEM versions are not transferable. What about upgrading hardware? Microsoft says that anything is fair game, except the motherboard. Replacing the motherboard in a computer results in a “new personal computer,” which the company considers to be synonymous with a transfer. It’s not permitted with an OEM edition of Windows.

    Nevertheless, I’ve known users who got around this limitation by calling Microsoft and reporting that their motherboards died when they wanted to build a new computer. It is Microsoft’s policy to allow motherboard swaps in instances where a system is defective or has suffered a hardware failure. But you shouldn’t bank on this approach; there’s no guarantee it will work and, well, liars don’t get ice cream. Also, while retail versions of Vista include both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows, OEM versions are specific. You get one or the other. This follows from the per device restriction. The end result is that OEM versions may not be that attractive to users who frequently build new computers from the ground up.

    I’m usually building a new PC once every three or four years so this is probably less of an issue for me, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

  9. Ok, sorry, ghost won’t solve the inability to do a true clean install, but you can install XP, upgrade, save the image and then just reload that image.  The effects are the same (aside from it being an upgrade) as a clean install as long as you don’t save/install anything extra.

    I think I’ll stick with XP until they stop supporting it for now myself though.

  10. You don’t actually need Ghost anymore.  Vista can take snapshots of your whole system drive without even needing a reboot.  You can save these to another hard drive partition, or a set of CDs/DVDs.

    You can restore from inside Vista—obviously, restoring does require a reboot.  If Vista can’t even boot to safe mode, you can use the bootable install DVD to restore a drive image.  It’s all pretty slick.

    One thing I really like about Vista’s install process: It asks all the questions up front, so you can go do something else while the install runs.  Previous versions of Windows had a habit of asking some questions, working for 4 minutes, asking a few more questions, working for 6 minutes, etc.

  11. The problem with the work-arounds being published for this issue is that Microsoft can revoke them later. Because of anti-piracy “improvements” to the Windows activation process, MS can revoke your activation remotely if it chooses to change policies. All Microsoft has to do is declare the clean install solutions to be “bugs,” and everyone with an upgrade copy goes back to being screwed.

    The more I read about the restrictions in Vista, the more I want my next “upgrade” to be a move to Linux. The only thing keeping me tied to Windows these days is Adobe Creative Suite.

    And don’t anybody say “get a Mac.” I refuse to worship at the Church of Jobs; that’s just trading one load of BS for another.

  12. Gaming is all that keeps me tied to Windows. Which isn’t entirely a bad thing seeing as it did provide me with a career. Windows that is, not gaming.

  13. Adam, I’m resisting the urge to say get a Mac – but only because you said so. If you check for compatible hardware, I’d still recommend MacOSX for an OS.

    I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my experiences with Linux have improved considerably since I tried Mandrake in 2004. Debian and it’s offspring, Ubuntu, are quite popular, but these days it’s more or less an open floor. If you’re willing to try some beta eye-candy, go grab Beryl, (you can watch a showcase of the most recent SVN here). I’ve made my policy decision to ditch Vista; my hope is that I’ll be able to contribute to WINE enough to get my favorite games running, which should put a halt to my dependence on Windows.

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