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Windows Vista

Upgrading To Windows Vista

By: Arie Slob

Upgrading To Windows Vista When you want to upgrade your current operating system to Windows Vista, there are several things that you have to consider.

First you need to know that if you plan to upgrade from within a current running version of Windows (Microsoft calls this an 'in place' upgrade), this might not always be possible, depending on which current Windows version you are running, and to which Windows Vista version you want to upgrade.

Below is a listing outlining the upgrade options for various Windows Vista editions.

Current OS

Home Basic

Home Premium



Windows XP Professional

Windows XP Professional x64

Windows XP Home

Windows XP Media Center

Windows XP Tablet PC

Windows 2000

While all Windows versions listed above are eligible for the Windows Vista upgrade version, only the Windows Vista versions represented by the green check-mark can be used for an in-place upgrade, the others will need a 'clean install'*) instead.

*) Microsoft's notion of a clean install in this case is running the Vista upgrade from within the previous OS. But instead of upgrading your previous OS, what you basically end up with is a parallel install, whereby your old Windows version will be renamed to Windows.old (Figure).

Clean Install?

By: Arie Slob

With previous versions of Windows, Microsoft always made it easy to do a clean install with the 'upgrade' version: You just started running the installation from the upgrade CD, and the installation routine would ask you to 'insert proof of your current Windows version', at which point you inserted your previous Windows version's CD. After that the upgrade would happily continue.

Not so with Windows Vista! Microsoft has removed the 'compliance check' from Vista's upgrade routine. When asked about it, a Microsoft representative told me that this was done because compliance checking was so easy to beat in Windows XP, so it was decided to skip it and just limit the use of the upgrade key to installing from within a running OS.

Now, as most of us know, this does not constitute a clean install. Not only will the Windows version from which you are upgrading be renamed to Windows.old and stay on your hard drive (quite easy to remove), but there will also be remnants in the "Program Files" folder, which would be hard to remove for the average user.

And the funny part of this new Microsoft policy? You can do a clean install with Windows Vista using a 'work around' that is being touted on various Web sites. It's a bit of a PITA, but here it goes:

  • Start installing Windows Vista on a cleanly formatted hard disk by booting your system off the Vista DVD. You can also format the drive from within the Vista setup routine (Figure).
  • When setup prompts you for your product key, don't enter it. Also uncheck the option Automatically activate Windows when I'm online (Figure).
  • Next setup will prompt you to choose your Vista edition that you purchased. Select the correct version, check the option I have selected the edition of Windows that I purchased and you can continue (Figure).
  • When Vista is installed and running, do not activate it. Your activation at this point would fail, because you have not done an upgrade. Now, with Vista running, re-insert the Vista upgrade DVD, and run setup again. This time do enter your product key. Also, select the 'Upgrade' option when asked. Let setup 'upgrade' your current Windows version, and when completed you'll have a 'clean' install using the Windows Vista upgrade version.

Many are touting this workaround as a very cool find: You'll never have to buy a full version again! Well, let me tell you something: If you want to use this 'work-around' in a bit to save $$$, I can tell you a better option: Buy a Windows Vista OEM copy! For example, a copy of Vista Ultimate OEM sells for $199.99 on Newegg, while the upgrade version sells for around $250.00, so buying the OEM version will save you $50.00.

We only have some speculation at this time as for the reason that Microsoft allows Windows Vista upgrade to install as an upgrade over a running trial version (the un-activated install), but it appears that this was a deliberate option built-in by Microsoft. I don't expect them to officially comment on the upgrade/clean install issues raised. Microsoft did release a Knowledge base Article 930985 where they state the company's position:

Upgrade installation keys are blocked when you start from the Windows Vista DVD

To resolve this problem, use one of the following methods.

Method 1
Start the installation from a compliant version of Windows, such as Windows Vista, Microsoft Windows XP, or Microsoft Windows 2000. After you have started the installation, you can select Custom at the installation choice screen to perform a clean installation.

Method 2
Purchase a Full Product License. This license will let the installation continue after you start from the Windows Vista DVD.

My Opinion

By: Arie Slob

As usual it is the end user that gets the short end of the stick! Because Microsoft thought it was too easy to circumvent the compliance checking in previous Windows versions, they removed it from Windows Vista's setup. Any end user who purchased an upgrade copy of Vista and who wishes to do a clean install will have to go through the procedure above, or firstly 'clean install' his prior Windows version and then do the in-place upgrade to Vista. This last option isn't ideal, because you'll not have a 'completely' clean system. Also, since Vista installs way faster than previous Windows versions, using the work around above will save you some time too!

Now if Microsoft was concerned that a lot of people were buying the upgrade version of previous Windows versions that weren't eligible for upgrade pricing (and those people circumvented the compliance checking), this new system will do nothing to prevent anyone from installing a Vista upgrade version without being eligible for the upgrade pricing. So what's the point?

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