A Vista upgrade nightmare

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

By now, if you are somewhat interested in your PC, you have heard all about Vista. And considering all the goodies the software brings, you can't tell me that you aren't planning to ditch that rusty XP in favor of all those Vista features.By now, if you are somewhat interested in your PC, you have heard all about Vista. And considering all the goodies the software brings, you can't tell me that you aren't planning to ditch that rusty XP in favor of all those Vista features. It is a given that tech journalists really need to upgrade, if they want or not, so I have been planning this move for about half a year, but guess what: So far, I haven't been able to upgrade to Vista and won't be able to ever upgrade my current, six-week old PC to Vista.

Now, I could be frustrated over this scenario, which I will describe to you in a few lines further down, but as a journalist, I almost feel appreciative that I ended up in severe upgrade problems, which are estimated to be encountered by about 1% of all users trying to upgrade to Vista. And, it is just a re-affirming situation that Vista is not that kind of miracle Microsoft is promising, but rather, plain and simple, another version of Windows.

So, journalists, analysts, developers and five million other users brave enough to install a preview version of Vista had the chance to get their hands on Vista early on. I for myself, even as an editor who has to write about those things from time to time, stayed out of this cycle. I did it with Windows 3.11, Windows 95, 98, Me and XP and learned over time that it's not the worst idea to never change a running (Windows) system. So, I purchased an off-the-shelf, premium Vista ready PC, which qualified for the Vista Express Upgrade program. Additionally, I took advantage of a program for journalists to get Vista RTM a few weeks before the official launch of the software.

Two Vista DVDs. That should make the upgrade very simple, right? No, not necessarily.

When you are trying to install Vista over a pre-existing XP, the first thing you notice is how bloated this piece of software is. Does it really need to take more than 2 hours to install an OS? I'll keep my frustration over the installation process to a minimum here, but let me say there is room for improvement for Microsoft. What is up with the system check and the notice that there may or may not be a problem with certain hardware pieces on my PC? How long did Microsoft work on Vista? How long was it tested? Did anyone forget to spend some time on making the installation routine a bit more user friendly?

Microsoft's warnings sounded a bit like a physician telling your wife that she may be pregnant - or not. Take your pick. Anyway, I considered the risk of a brand-new GeForce 7-series graphics not being compatible with Vista to be pretty slim and started the installation routine of Vista RTM.

Everything worked out fine, however, the PC refused to boot after finalizing the install. I was told there was a file missing. A very specific file that simply was not in the folder Vista would have expected it. There is a self-repair option, but after allowing Vista to search my PC for this problem for 60 minutes, I canceled the process and went back to XP. I played this game two more times and got increasingly more irritated with the fact that I am getting a Windows 3.11-like error message from Vista. Honestly, if Vista is as sophisticated as they say it is, why isn't it able to pick up that error message and repair itself right away without searching my PC from A-Z? Jeez, Vista, if you know that file is missing, just copy it into the folder where it belongs to or tell me how I can fix it manually. At least on this side, Vista is just as rough as Windows 3.11, no doubt about it.

I contacted my system vendor, whose name I will leave out of this article, for help. The support technician had a really bad day and was not able to provide any useful help. Later own, a spokesperson for that vendor told me that PC buyers of Express Upgrade PCs are "strongly encouraged" to take advantage of this program, because there is no guarantee that a commercial version of Vista will run on my PC, due to the lack of certain drivers. Aha! This statement was a bit strange, but was not a reason for a concern: If you have bought such a PC, why would you buy a retail version of Vista anyway? So, I went through the Express Upgrade website in a slow and very tiring process of providing so much detail that I would not have been surprised if they had asked me what brand of underwear I was wearing.

In my specific case, the Upgrade to Vista Premium was completely free, they did not even charge that $10 shipping fee. By email, I was informed that, in order to complete the process, I would have to scan or fax the purchase receipt of the PC and they would be sending out the DVD. Unfortunately, I do not have that receipt anymore, as I decided to take advantage of a mail-in-rebate offered with the PC. I admit, that is an unusual situation, but it breaks the whole deal. Without receipt, there's no update, it is as simple as that.

From a consumer's point of view, I would consider that kind of practice frivolous, as there is absolutely no problem for a system vendor or Microsoft to determine when a PC was shipped/sold and to determine if there is a legal or pirated copy of Windows XP on that PC. But, I was told, there is no way around that and I would need that receipt to upgrade. Period. Take a simpler approach and assume that there are some people who misplace those receipts or even throw them away - in that case you can't get your hands on a promised copy of Vista, even if the system vendor exactly knows when the product has shipped and that you have a perfectly fine Windows on your system that qualifies for an upgrade.

I give anyone involved in this supply chain - the system vendor, the service provider handling the upgrade requests and Microsoft - the benefit of the doubt and even I should have been smart enough to keep that original receipt. But it's clear that, while the economics have worked extremely well for Microsoft, there is a problem. At this time, I simply feel cheated out of something that I was promised to get.

I will go further down the road and work with Microsoft to see if there isn't a way to get a retail version of Vista to work on this fancy new dual-core PC. I will update this story from time to time.

In the meantime, I'll remind myself that it is not some fantastic must-have software I am dealing with. It's just Windows.