Has Microsoft Taken the Work Out of Hacking Vista?

It’s time to purchase a new PC and you want to add the most up-to-date Operating System available.

Microsoft Windows Vista is your choice, but you want to install it yourself so that the computer manufacturer doesn’t add free trials of AOL and other wonderful extras, or as I like to call it — annoying junk.

So, you’re pricing the different editions of Vista and realize that this OS is kind of expensive. Instantly you’re wishing you didn’t spend that extra money on the 32 inch LCD monitor, but you just weren’t going to be satisfied until your World of Warcraft character was a foot tall.

But, you notice something; the upgrade editions are more than $100 cheaper in some cases, and you think, "I wish there was a way to install the full version of Vista on my new PC at the upgrade price."

Well I’m here to tell that there is a way to do this, and it looks like Microsoft knows all about it … and they’re fine with it.

Vista – The Early Days

When Microsoft first released Vista it was met with some resistance by consumers. It was about $400 for the full edition and even if some people could afford it, most were having compatibility issues.

The upgrade edition was met with even further frustration because even though it was about $100 less than a full edition, it could only be used if you had the XP or Windows 2000 operating systems actually running on your machine. What’s more, you could no longer use the XP or 2000 disc to start your upgrade.

Sales were not what Microsoft expected until one day someone stumbled upon the fact that you could do a “clean install” of the full version of Vista from the upgrade disc.

Why Does This "Clean Install" Make Me Feel So Dirty?

Simply put, a "clean install" is installing an operating system on a formatted, or blank hard drive. There is nothing on the hard drive so you cannot use an upgrade disc, because you have nothing to upgrade.


You would be required to install the full version of your operating system. However, there was a hack written into the upgrade disc for Windows Vista that allowed you to do a clean install of Vista from the upgrade disc.

Without getting into too much detail (I’d hate for the MIB to show up and "flashy thing" my brain) you could boot your PC from the upgrade disc and do a clean install of Vista on your machine, without entering the product code and without activating the product.

Hacking Vista - 1

Once the installation was complete you could again launch the setup program from within Vista, but this time select the "Upgrade" option and enter the product code. Essentially, Vista was upgrading over a copy of itself!

Hacking Vista - 2

Hacking Vista - 3

I know what you’re thinking; surely Bill Gates went down to the Vista development department and did his best Donald Trump impression and cleaned house for such an error, right? He did do something close to that, but instead of firing people, he actually did nothing.

Working Out The Kinks

Microsoft appeared to be indignant when it came to this workaround and issued a press release that basically stated that using this "hack" violated the Vista End-User License Agreement. They further went on to say that they didn’t believe that too many people would take the time to take advantage of the "hack".

Translation: You probably shouldn’t be doing this, but even if you think you might, we’re willing to bet that the several minutes you’d lose by doing this will deter you from going through with it. Go ahead; we dare you!

It had been about a year and Microsoft was poised to release Service Pack 1 (SP1) for Vista and everyone assumed this workaround would be removed. According to Microsoft’s website, 551 bugs were fixed in SP1, and it stood to reason that lighting wouldn’t strike twice with the upgrade error, with one year to find it and correct it.

Well, this was one "kink" that wasn’t worked out. You can still use the workaround I described above, on the SP1 release of the Vista upgrade. Because SP1 still has the upgrade workaround this begs the question; with unlimited resources, was it possible that Microsoft could accidentally let this happen twice?

Not Bloody Likely!

Suspicions were aroused, when the workaround was found on the first release of Vista, that Microsoft had done this on purpose to boost sales of its product. It seemed they were targeting a more technologically sophisticated buyer. But no proof could be found to support this and at the end of the day, however unlikely, it seemed it was plausible that Microsoft just made a mistake.

Then SP1 was released with the workaround still available in the upgrade disc and everyone was wondering, "Is it possible Microsoft missed this twice?" If everyone could now adopt their best Cockney accent and say it with me, "Not bloody likely!"

Microsoft would never accidentally let this happen. The only other plausible explanation is that Microsoft has in fact purposely done this as an attempt to boost sales and at the very least to get us talking about it in articles such as this one. Whatever the reason, both seem to have happened.

Will This Get Me in Hot Water?

It doesn’t look like you’ll need to worry about falling in the hot tub on this one. If Microsoft did not want this workaround to be part of the Vista upgrade they would have removed it when it was noticed. At the very least they would have taken it out of SP1.

The fact is that Microsoft really does not seem too concerned about it. Allowing this to remain on SP1 is just short of a full endorsement by Microsoft, and realizing that this had to be implicitly added by the developers should put most of your fears to bed.

I do want to say that I’m not endorsing this workaround as a way to save money when installing new PCs, say, at your small business. This does violate the Vista EULA and it wouldn’t be wise to put your business in potential jeopardy.

But, could you install the full version of Windows Vista using the upgrade disc on your PC at home? Microsoft isn’t going to say yes, but they’re certainly not saying no.

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