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Vista Upgrade: No more rumors

Vista Upgrade: No more rumors

Upgrading from XP to Vista

I’ve seen a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) being spread around the web about the Windows Vista upgrade process. Things like “you have to install and activate XP first” and “you have to do an upgrade – you can’t do a clean install”, et cetera. In an ideal world, we could all afford the $400 for a new retail copy of Windows Vista Ultimate, but when you realize you can save almost $200 by buying the upgrade instead, it seems pretty compelling to at least consider. To cut through the questions and hype, I had to experience it for myself.

I decided to put the upgrade process to the test and see if saving the money is worth the hassle.

If I was going to do the “Vista experience”, I figured I’d go all out. Instead of going to the store and buying a boxed Upgrade version, I went online to the Windows Marketplace and purchased a download edition. The Marketplace is pretty straightforward, with the exception of deciding between the 32bit and 64bit editions. Even though I am pretty sure I selected the 64bit edition, I ended up with the 32bit version. Also, I don’t remember selecting Circuit City as a vendor, but that’s who got my purchase. I had no say in the matter.

Windows Vista upgrade

The download consists of three files: an executable and two .WIM files – a boot image and the actual Vista install image. The total size for all three files is about 2.5 gigabytes. On my 7 MB/s internet connection, the download took over an hour. The servers were somewhat slow, as I was only getting about 300K-400K on average. While those were downloading, I prepped my retail Windows XP Professional installation. I deauthorized my iTunes account, uninstalled most of my applications, and defragmented my drive. I backed up all my things and by the time I was finished, the Vista installer had been downloaded.

I eagerly started the installer, only to be met with an error about the install image being corrupt!

Angrily, I re-downloaded the “install.wim” file (the big one – 2.3 gigabytes!) which came through much faster the second time around – it only took 20 minutes. I guess I got lucky and landed on a less-busy server. The Windows Marketplace is nice in that you always have access to your downloads once you buy the product.

The second time around was better. My install image was not corrupt and the installation proceeded. On my fairly current system (Athlon X2 5000+, 2 GB of fast RAM, Radeon X1900XT), the install only took about 25 minutes. Once it booted into Vista, everything was smooth sailing. It activated, updated, and now I’m writing this article from a full, clean Vista Ultimate system.

Vista Upgrade’s “clean install” really is clean

I chose the “clean install” instead of upgrading. This basically takes your entire old OS and Program Files directories and puts them into a single folder on your primary HD called “windows.old”. It wipes out your registry, thus the install is as clean as a “real” clean install. There’s a lot of psychology involved in the idea of clean installs. Some people insist on them, but functionally, there’s no difference except for the inability to partition and wipe your HD when you install Vista.

If you really want a truly “clean” upgrade, you can do what I did on a test computer: install Windows XP however you want. I took a blank HD, used a retail Windows XP Pro disk to format and partition the drive, installed the bare minimum XP install which only took about 10 minutes, and then immediately ran the Vista upgade. When finished, I deleted the “windows.old” folder. Problem solved. Clean install. Certainly clean enough to be worth almost $200 in savings.

The only potential drawback is if your storage drivers aren’t present on the Windows XP CD. Then, you would still have to go through the hassle of installing a floppy drive just to load storage drivers (or creating a slipstreamed, custom install CD with your drivers).

Is my XP license still valid after upgrading to Vista?

Did upgrading my copy of XP Pro to Vista invalidate my XP license? Unless the Microsoft representative I spoke to on the phone was in the wrong to do this, it does not. On a test machine, I took a blank HD and installed my copy of Windows XP Pro (retail) on a new system. This is fully legal and valid, since it’s a retail edition and you are allowed to transfer the license. It did not pass the automatic activation, and I had to call in. I gave the rep my installation ID number and he asked a single question: “How many computers is this copy of Windows XP currently installed on?” and I truthfully answered “one”. No more questions. He rattled off the new installation ID and the phone call was finished. I stopped him before he hung up: “Wait, this used to be on another computer and I upgraded it to Vista. Will I have to reactivate every time I install this copy on a new machine, say if I replace my motherboard?” He replied, “Yes. Everytime you replace a component you will be required to reactivate the software. Thank you for calling Microsoft.” We already knew this, but the new lesson learned is that my Windows XP Pro retail license is still fully valid. Just to be absolutely sure, I ran WGA checks on it, and it passed validation.

For a great majority of users, the Vista upgade is a fully valid option if you want to go forward with Microsoft’s new OS. You save a great deal of money and only have to deal with the loss of time that installing (or prepping) Windows XP takes. On a fast computer, this should add only 10 to 15 minutes to your total install time. Not a bad deal for saving so much money.

Be sure to see our simplified guide to deciding which version of Windows Vista is right for you.


  1. Kentigern
    Kentigern Interesting read Brian - gonna save us a lot of pounds (bucks) Thank you :)
  2. Leonardo
    Leonardo Solid, informative, and to the point. Good. That's makes a difference for my future purchase decisions.

    Thanks, Prime.
  3. Pterocarpous
    Pterocarpous Fannnnnntastic!! That seals it for me!! :bigggrin: Thanx Brian!! You rock!! :thumbsup:
  4. Gargoyle
    Gargoyle Great info Prime! Nice to know about the XP license!
  5. Jonsey
    Jonsey Remember folks, doing that will invalidate the XP key you used. In fact, that XP key has a good chance of not re-activating.

    The trick is, you accept the terms that you cannot re-use that XP key. Keep it in mind.
  6. primesuspect
    primesuspect Jonsey, that conflicts directly with my experience. I re-activated my XP license after upgrading it to Vista. I called Microsoft, explained my situation, they gave me a new activation key, and it passed Windows Genuine Advantage validation.

    Is it still technically an "illegal" license now? :confused:
  7. csimon
    Jonsey, that conflicts directly with my experience. I re-activated my XP license after upgrading it to Vista. I called Microsoft, explained my situation, they gave me a new activation key, and it passed Windows Genuine Advantage validation.

    Is it still technically an "illegal" license now? :confused:
    It can't be illegal. What if you need to reinstall Vista onto your new drive after the old one dies or whatever the circumstance? Then you need to use the valid XP all over again to repeat the process.
    I think it would be illegal to run that particular XP on another system after you've used it to activate Vista. That's my interpretation.
  8. Jonsey
    Jonsey What you get approved by the WGA folks is always allowed to float. Per the reading of the EULA that I was given by a MS LCA person (Legal & other stuff) during her down-time, the EULA only supports an upgrade, once you've upgraded, that's game over for the license on the other/older copy.

    Now, I'm not a legal expert, no matter what any of my degrees may mention, so do not take this as legal advice.

    Per my read of the Vista Upgrade EULA, once you upgrade, you voluntarily give up your old license, which MS revokes.

    There will likely be a technical provision enacted to enforce that giving up of your prior license in future prime, but for now, just run it by the WGA folks on the phone, and if they OK it, you know you're on the right side of the license.

    CSI -- Yes, you would need to use it, however, per the EULA of the UPGRADE version of Vista, you cannot do such, as it supports the upgrade exactly once.

    Now, I can't talk to the legality of shrink-wrap licenses, even though it was a pet project of mine while going through college....

    The point stands that MS can enact provisions to make your old key show up fully non-legit, within the bounds of their license, and it should not actually be technically difficult to implement.

    To sum up, and save you a lot of potential trouble:

    If you're buying just to go from XP to Vista once, buy UPGRADE

    If you're buying to be able to transfer the license to that software to another computer later, or if you're planning on needing a clean install, or a re-install... Buy the full copy.

    (Also, not that I expect any of you to do it, but watch out for Staple or Best-Buy doing "upgrades" for you.)
  9. primesuspect
    csimon wrote: »
    valid XP all over again to repeat the process.

    Actually Chris, when I did my upgrade test for my article, I did not activate XP in order to run the upgrade. The upgrade went fine without activating XP beforehand.
  10. csimon
    Actually Chris, when I did my upgrade test for my article, I did not activate XP in order to run the upgrade. The upgrade went fine without activating XP beforehand.
    Ah ...so if it doesn't have to be an activated copy that takes that part out of the equation. But you can only do the upgrade once right?
  11. Thrax
    Thrax I love the Vista EULA. It's the biggest piece of **** ever. It should just slap you in the wang, give you a pair of handcuffs, and sodomize you on the spot.
  12. Jonsey
    Jonsey Thrax, it's actually much less restrictive on most topics than the XP EULA + SP2 EULA.

    Be Happy, it will save you from a lot of bunk later.
  13. Thrax
    Thrax It's why I run Windows 2000. ;D

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