The terribly confusing and consumer-unfriendly state of upgrading to Windows Vista is proof that Microsoft has serious communication problems. The upgrade SKUs—the cheap boxes sold at CompUSA that contain upgrade discs for your existing Windows install—are a horrific mess that will result in returns, broken systems, and heartache for everyone involved.
The problem began when a committee of geniuses decided that choosing an OS wasn’t difficult enough and expanded the number of retail versions of Windows from two to four—with each version offered in full and upgrade versions. A full version will install on a new machine, but to install an upgrade version, you need to have an existing Windows license. Simple enough, right? Wrong.
You see, you can upgrade certain versions of Windows XP only to certain versions of Vista. To further complicate matters, you can’t upgrade the hardcore, power-user version of Windows XP (XP Pro) to the analogous version of Windows Vista (Home Premium) using the upgrade process. In order to upgrade the Pro version of XP to Vista, you need to purchase either the Business version, which omits Media Center functionality, or the ridiculously overpriced Ultimate Edition. (Who did Microsoft consult before making this decision? The same people who write Mac commercials?) Of course, you probably won’t figure out your purchasing mistake until after you’ve opened the box and the upgrade fails, rendering your purchase nonrefundable.
Now, if you want to move from XP Pro to Home Premium you can just back up your data, wipe your drive, and do a clean install, right? Wrong again. You see, the brain trust at Microsoft decided that upgrade versions should be incapable of performing clean installs—if you boot from the CD. In order to work, the upgrade process requires that you start from a working version of Windows. This fundamentally idiotic requirement will make disaster recovery a two-step process. Instead of simply checking to ensure that you own Windows XP during the install process, the Vista upgrade disc forces you to first install Windows (it can be XP or a demo version of Vista), then upgrade to the version of Vista you purchased. It’s a good thing Microsoft streamlined the Vista install process, isn’t it?
If you buy the wrong version of Vista, you won’t be able to upgrade XP with it. You’ll have problems doing a clean install, and you probably won’t be able to get a refund, either. It makes me wonder if anyone at Microsoft has ever actually installed and used Windows before. If they haven’t, why should I?