Anyone who tried to install their upgrade version of Windows 7 to a fresh drive was treated to a cruel wake up call. Not when they installed the OS, not even after they installed all their applications, but when the time came to activate. The deal with upgrade media is simple, an existing, and activated copy of Windows must exist on the hard drive prior to installation, or be prepared to start over. To make matters worse, the activation warning doesn't even give you a phone number to call and appeal you're case. The good news is you’re not dead in the water, that is, as long as you're comfortable making a few simple registry edits.
This guide will give you tips on all the upgrading scenarios, and even teach you how to use your upgrade DVD to perform a clean install on a fresh system with no prior OS. We show you how to turn the tables on the dreaded activation error code 0xC004F061: "The Software Licensing Service determined that this specified product key can only be used for upgrade, not for clean installations."
First, lets quickly review what you can do with the upgrade disk, and how you should approach each upgrade scenario.
You’re doing an in-place upgrade from the same edition of Vista to the same edition of Windows 7. For example, Windows Vista Home Premium to Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows Vista Ultimate to Windows 7 Ultimate, etc.
Just pop in your upgrade DVD while in Vista and follow the prompts, this one is drop dead simple! Activation should go off without a hitch.
You're upgrading your copy of Windows Vista to a different edition of Windows 7. For example, Vista Ultimate to Windows 7 Home Premium, or Vista Business to Windows 7 Ultimate.
You will need to boot from the CD and perform a clean install. Do not format your drive using any program other than the Windows installer, or you will be forced to perform the registry hack listed below in order to activate.
If you install Windows 7 to the same drive that Vista is currently located on without formatting, the contents will be moved to Windows.old that you can sift through or delete later.
You’re doing a clean install of Windows 7, and Windows Vista, Windows XP, or Windows 2000 is currently installed.
Do not format your drive using anything other than the Windows installer. Simply boot from the CD and either format the drive when given the option, or install to the same drive which will create a Windows.old folder with your previous data.
You have a freshly built system with a totally blank or formatted hard drive.
You could install a previous version of Windows, activate it, then go ahead and install Windows 7 using one of the scenarios listed above which some call “The Double Install Method”, or you could follow the steps on the next page to trick the activation service into thinking it found a previous version.
A true geek has never been intimidated by the registry, but lets face it, it's a mess in there. To access the registry you will first need to open up the start menu and type " regedit " into the search field, followed by enter. To find the proverbial needle in this haystack, you will need to navigate through the tabs listed on the left in the following order:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Setup/OOBE/ . If you don't like doing it the hard way just click Edit then Find and type MediaBootInstall into the search field, and press enter.
Once found, double click MediaBootInstall and change the "1" to a "0". Once you have finished this, simply click Ok and close out the Registry Editor.
Before we try to activate our copy of Windows, we need to reset or "Re-Arm" the activation sequence. To do this, simply open up the start menu and type cmd but instead of just pressing enter, you need to press " Ctrl " + " Shift " + " Enter " to run it as an administrator. You can also accomplish this by clicking the start menu, typing cmd into the search box, then right clicking the command prompt application and selecting Run as administrator .
Once the command prompt appears type slmgr /rearm and press enter . Next simply type Exit and hit enter again, after which it will ask you to restart your machine.
It’s worth mentioning that this tip will allow you to reset the 30-day activation period for new installs. On Vista it worked 3 times before refusing to add any more time, but the RTM of Windows 7 hasn’t been out long enough for us to re-test the feature. I expect it would be much the same and it allows you to make sure your system is 100% stable before using up an activation.
The final step is to simply bring up the start menu, type " Activate Windows ", then follow the prompts to success. This is a known working solution to perform a fresh install using upgrade media, but let me warn you now, it may eventually get patched out. With this in mind, it’s probably best to make sure activating is the first thing you do before you hit up Windows Update if you're trying this on SP1 or SP2.
Its unfortunate that Microsoft didn’t choose to enforce the honor system method when it comes to upgrading, but I suppose you can’t begrudge them their attempts to stem piracy. As for why Microsoft was so tight lipped about the exact upgrade requirements, we’ll probably never know, but it was likely just an attempt to avoid further controversy.
All things considered however, its rather underhanded to allow users to install without a product key, fine tune their systems, then not allow them to activate, with no phone number to call and petition your case. This happened to me simply because the installer failed the first time, and was then faced with a fresh disk when it came time for round 2.
How do you think the upgrade process was handled? Let us know in the comments below.
If you’re looking for help on how to install Windows 7 as a Dual boot, check our step by step tutorial .
And if you didn’t find the answer to your upgrade question here, that’s probably because it was covered in our past guide .