NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, April 2007
Windows XP Upgrade to Vista
Written by Vinny La Bash,
a member of the Sarasota PCUG, Florida

Obtained from APCUG with the author's permission for publication by APCUG member groups.
labash@spcug.org (click to email author)

Previous versions of Windows always accepted an installation disk as proof you had a legitimate copy of Windows. This entitled you to install the upgrade version of the latest release of the operating system. Vista doesn’t work the same way. The only thing it will recognize is a copy of Windows already installed on a hard drive. Why Microsoft did this remains a mystery, but perhaps there really are things that mere mortals are not meant to know.

Don’t go out and splurge on a full version of Vista. Read on and save some money. There are four primary versions of Vista:

Vista Home Basic
Vista Home Premium
Vista Business
Vista Ultimate

The difference between the full and upgrade versions of each variation of Vista ranges between $72 and $155. Even though Vista is a big improvement over XP, why spend the extra money for a full version if you don’t have to?

If you’re attempting to upgrade from a version of XP or Windows 2000 that’s already installed on your hard drive, the upgrade version of Vista will install as soon as it recognizes the older version of Windows on your system. However, if you’ve formatted your hard drive, Vista refuses to accept an installation disk from a previous version of Windows as evidence that you do indeed own a legitimate copy of Microsoft’s flagship product.

Fortunately, there is a legitimate method to work around this otherwise severe and unnecessary restriction. There is an undocumented procedure that allows you to do a full clean install of Vista to a physical hard drive without a previous version of the operating system installed.

The setup program in the Vista upgrade is the tool that lets you perform a full clean install of the product. In addition to XP and Windows 2000, Vista will recognize a copy of itself that has not yet been activated. What if we install Vista twice? We are going to install Vista, and then “upgrade” to Vista. Before you do ANYTHING, please read the entire 20 step procedure first. I’ll wait while you do this. OK, let’s get started.

    1. Boot your PC from the Vista DVD.
    2. In the dialog box that comes up select “Install Now”. DO NOT enter the product key at this time. You’ll do that later.
    3. Turn off the option that that says Automatically activate Windows when I’m online.
    4. Another dialog box comes up. Confirm the Vista installation without the product key.
    5. Tell the installation program what version of Vista you’re installing. Don’t fib about this.
    6. This step is important. Select the “Custom (Advanced)” install, NOT the “Upgrade” install.
    7. Wait for the install program to copy files. Your system will probably reboot several times. Don’t touch anything. Let the install complete.
    8. Eject the installation DVD WITHOUT activating Vista.
    9. Reboot to make sure everything is working OK.
    10. Reinsert the Vista installation diskette and run setup again.
    11. Click “Install Now”.
    12. Select Do not get the latest updates for installation. You can do that later.
    13. Enter the product key.
    14. Turn off the option to Automatically activate Windows when I’m online.
    15. Now select “Upgrade,” not “Custom (Advanced).” This is where you do the actual “upgrade” to Vista.
    16. Pay attention! Don’t do anything while the setup program copies files and does a reboot.
    17. At some point the system will ask if you would like to boot from the DVD. Decline the invitation.
    18. No matter what happens on the screen, leave the keyboard and mouse alone. Resist the urge to do something. Vista setup is making all the right choices for you automatically.
    19. The Thank You dialog box will eventually appear. Click Start.
    20. Vista’s login screen will come up shortly. Enter the user name and password you created during the first installation.

Congratulations! You’re finished upgrading to Vista, but you still have a housekeeping chore to perform. You have to activate Vista within 30 days of installation or it will cease working properly. To activate Vista:

    1. Reboot your machine.
    2. The Welcome Center appears.
    3. Click Show more details.
    4. Click Activate Windows now.
    5. Activation will now take place automatically over the internet.

It is unknown why Microsoft programmed this procedure into the setup program. My conjecture is that the procedure was implemented for the convenience of programmers while testing the product and someone decided that it was too much trouble to remove. Another possibility is that when Microsoft management gave the order to stop development and concentrate on fixing bugs, there was no time to remove the feature before product release. Whatever the case may be, let’s use Microsoft’s perhaps unintentional gift to save a few bucks.

This article has been provided to APCUG by the author solely for publication by APCUG member groups. All other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

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