Vista Installation

Summary:

Upgrade versus Full Editions
You can use an Upgrade version of Vista to install on a empty PC
Legal ? … not sure, but it is an official Microsoft technique
So potentially you could buy an upgrade version of Vista rather then the Full version.

Activation
After using Vista for 30 days you must Activate it or Vista will drop back into a reduced functionality mode
Microsoft has detailed an official ‘hack’ that allows you to delay activation for up to 120 days!

The following are written by Brian Livingston:
Please read his website at: http://windowssecrets.com/

Get Vista upgrade, never pay full price

By Brian Livingston

Many people are upset by the fact that the economical, “upgrade” version of Vista won’t accept a Windows XP or Windows 2000 CD-ROM as proof of ownership. Vista Upgrade is said to install only to a hard disk that already has XP or 2000 on it.

But I’ve tested a method that allows you to clean-install the Vista upgrade version on any hard drive, with no prior XP or W2K installation — or even a CD — required.

Save by avoiding the ‘full’ version

Windows Vista, in my opinion, is a big improvement over Windows XP in many ways. But the new operating system is distinctly overpriced.

The list price of the “full” (not “upgrade”) version of the most expensive edition, Vista Ultimate, is $399.95 USD, with a street price around $380. That gold-plated retail figure is only possible because Microsoft long ago achieved monopoly pricing power in the PC operating system market.

Most computer users would prefer to keep using an older version of Windows, such as XP, rather than paying the inflated prices for the “full” version of Vista. To encourage switching to a new OS, Microsoft has historically offered a lower, “upgrade” price to people who can prove that they’ve previously purchased an older copy of Windows.

The difference between Vista’s full and upgrade prices can be substantial.
The upgrade versions of Vista have street prices that are 32% to 48% cheaper than the full versions. If you’re truly installing Vista over an old instance of XP or W2K, the upgrade version of Vista will find the older OS on your hard drive and install without question. The problem is that Vista, unlike every version of Windows in the past, doesn’t let you insert a physical disc from an older operating system as evidence of your previous purchase.

Vista has an undocumented feature, however, that actually allows you to “clean install” Vista to a hard disk that has no prior copy of XP or W2K.

Use Vista’s ‘upgrade’ version to clean-install

The secret is that the setup program in Vista’s upgrade version will accept an installed copy of XP, W2K, or an unactivated copy of Vista itself as evidence of a previous installation.

This enables you to “clean install” an upgrade version of Vista to any formatted or unformatted hard drive, which is usually the preferred method when installing any new operating system. You must, in essence, install Vista twice to take advantage of this trick. But Vista installs much faster than XP, so it’s quicker than installing XP followed by Vista to get the upgrade price.

Before you install Vista on a machine that you don’t know is 100% compatible, you should run Microsoft’s free Upgrade Advisor. This program — which operates only on 32-bit versions of XP and Vista (plus Vista Enterprise) — reports to you on any hardware or software it finds that may be incompatible with Vista. See Microsoft’s Upgrade Advisor page.

Also, to see which flavors of XP Home, XP Pro, and 2000 officially support in-place installs and clean installs of the different Vista editions, see Microsoft’s upgrade paths page.

Here’s a simplified overview of the steps that are required to clean-install the upgrade version of Vista:

Step 1. Boot the PC from the Vista DVD.

Step 2. Select “Install Now,” but do not enter the Product Key from the Vista packaging. Leave the input box blank. Also, turn off the option Automatically activate Windows when I’m online. In the next dialog box that appears, confirm that you really do want to install Vista without entering a Product Key.

Step 3. Correctly indicate the version of Vista that you’re installing: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, or Ultimate.

Step 4. Select the “Custom (Advanced)” install, not the “Upgrade” install.

Step 5. Vista copies files at length and reboots itself one or more times. Wait for the install to complete. At this point, you might think that you could “activate” Vista, but you can’t. That’s because you haven’t installed the Vista upgrade yet. To do that, run the DVD’s setup.exe program again, but this time from the Vista desktop. The easiest way to start setup again is to eject and then reinsert the DVD.

Step 6. Click “Install Now.” Select Do not get the latest updates for installation. (You can check for these updates later.)

Step 7. This time, do enter the Product Key from the Vista packaging. Once again, turn off the option Automatically activate Windows when I’m online.

Step 8. On this second install, make sure to select “Upgrade,” not “Custom (Advanced).” You’re not doing a clean install now, you’re upgrading to Vista.

Step 9. Wait while Vista copies files and reboots itself. No user interaction is required. Do not boot from the DVD when asked if you’d like to do so. Instead, wait a few seconds and the setup process will continue on its way. Some DOS-like, character-mode menus will appear, but don’t interact with them. After a few seconds, the correct choice will run for you automatically.

Step 10. After you click a button labeled Start in the Thank You dialog box, Vista’s login screen will eventually appear. Enter the username and password that you selected during the first install. You’re done upgrading to Vista.

Step 11. Within 30 days, you must “activate” your copy of Vista or it’ll lose functionality. To activate Vista, click Show more details in the Welcome Center that automatically displays upon each boot-up, then click Activate Windows now. If you’ve dismissed the Welcome Center, access the correct dialog box by clicking Start, Control Panel, System & Maintenance, System. If you purchased a legitimate copy of Vista, it should quickly activate over the Internet. (You can instead activate by calling Microsoft on the phone, which avoids your PC exchanging information with Microsoft’s server.)

I’m not going into detail today on the merits of buying Vista at retail instead of buying a cheaper OEM copy. (The OEM offerings don’t entitle you to call Microsoft for support, while the retail packages do.) Also, I’m not touching here on the least-expensive way to buy Vista, which is to take advantage of Microsoft’s “educational” rate. I’ll describe both of these topics in next week’s newsletter.

Why does Vista’s secret setup exist?

It’s reasonable for us to ask ourselves whether buying an upgrade version of Vista, and then installing it to an empty hard disk that contains no previous version of Windows, is ethical.

I believe it is. Microsoft itself created the upgrade process. The company designed Vista to support upgrading it over a previously installed copy of XP, W2K Pro, or Vista itself. This isn’t a black-hat hacker exploit. It’s something that’s been deliberately programmed into the approved setup routine.

Microsoft spent years developing and testing Vista. This upgrade trick must have been known to many, many people within the development team. Either Microsoft planned this upgrade path all along, knowing that computer magazines and newsletters (like this one) would widely publicize a way to “save money buying Vista.” Or else some highly placed coders within the Vista development team decided that Vista’s “full” price was too high and that no one should ever have to pay it. In either case, Vista’s setup.exe is Microsoft’s official install routine, and I see no problem with using it exactly as it was designed.

We should also think about whether instances of Vista that were installed using the clean-install method will continue to operate. I believe that this method will continue to be present in Vista DVDs at least until Microsoft begins distributing the Service Pack 1 edition of Vista around fall 2007. Changing the routine in the millions of DVDs that are now in circulation would simply be too wrenching. And trying to remotely disable instances of Vista that were clean-installed — even if it were technically possible to distinguish them — would generate too many tech-support calls and too much ill will to make it worthwhile.

Installing the upgrade version of Vista, but not installing over an existing instance of XP or W2K, probably violates the Vista EULA (end-user license agreement). If you’re a business executive, I wouldn’t recommend that you flout any Windows license provisions just to save money.

If you’re strictly a home user, contributing editor Susan Bradley points out that Microsoft’s so-called Vista Family Discount (VFD) is an economical package that avoids any license issues. If you buy a retail copy of Vista Ultimate, MS lets you upgrade up to two additional PCs to Vista Home Premium for $50 each. For example, if you buy the upgrade version of Ultimate for $225, the grand total after you add two Home Premiums is $335. That’s about $133 less than buying three upgrade versions of Home Premium. Details are at Microsoft’s VFD page.

Microsoft did revise a Knowledge Base article, number 930985, on Jan. 31 that obliquely refers to the upgrade situation. It simply states that an upgrade version of Vista can’t perform a clean install when a PC is booted from the Vista DVD. A clean install will only work, the document says, when the Vista setup is run from within an older version of Windows (or if a full version of Vista is being used).

This article doesn’t at all deal with the fact that the Vista upgrade version will in fact clean-install using the steps described above. It’ll be interesting to see whether MS ever explains why these steps were programmed in.

Personally, I consider Vista’s ability to upgrade over itself to be Digital Rights Management that actually benefits consumers. It’s almost cosmic justice.

I invite my readers to test Vista’s undocumented clean-install method for themselves. There certainly must be aspects of this setup routine that I haven’t yet discovered. I’ll print the best findings from those sent in via our contact page. You’ll receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of your choice if you’re the first to send in a tip that I print.

I’d like to thank my co-author of Windows Vista Secrets, Paul Thurrott, for his research help in bringing the clean-install method to light.

Use Vista without activation for 120 days

By Brian Livingston

It’s widely assumed that a newly installed copy of Windows Vista must be “activated” before 30 days are up.

But Microsoft has built into Vista a simple, one-line command that anyone can use to extend the activation deadline of the product to a total of 120 days — almost four full months!

How to extend the Vista activation deadline

The concept of “activation” has become familiar to computer users ever since Microsoft introduced it into the licensing for Windows XP.

After installing Windows, you have a 30-day “trial period” to either activate the product or let it lose some functionality. You can activate XP or Vista by allowing the software to contact Microsoft’s servers via your Internet connection. Or, if you’re paranoid about an automated session of this kind, you can call a phone number in various countries to receive a code to enter on your keyboard.

An activated copy of Windows is “locked” to the specific configuration that was present at activation time — motherboard, hard drive, and so forth. Changing several components, such as during a hardware upgrade, can cause Windows to complain, saying it requires reactivation.

Microsoft seems to be liberal about providing new activation codes to anyone who calls the telephone number and provides a plausible explanation. (My hard disk needed replacing, etc.) Don’t be afraid to try calling if a copy of Windows ever needs reactivation.

All versions of Vista allow a 30-day period without activation (except the corporate-oriented Vista Enterprise, which supports only a 3-day trial). If you know the secret, however, you can extend the activation deadline of editions such as Vista Home Premium and Vista Business up to four months past the original install date.

Microsoft provides a command-line program in Vista known as the Software Licensing Manager (SLMGR) or slmgr.vbs.This is a Visual Basic script that resides in c:windowssystem32. You can read the contents of this script file with any text editor or a professional development environment.

Among other things, slmgr.vbs has a function that pushes Vista’s activation deadline out to 30 days from the date the command is run. From the Vista desktop, take the following steps on a machine on which Vista hasn’t yet been activated:

Step 1. Open a command window with admin privileges. Click Vista’s start button and type cmd into the Search box. Rather than pressing Enter, instead press Ctrl+Shift+Enter to open the command window with elevated privileges. If you’re asked for a username and password, provide the ones that log you into your domain. On a single-user copy of Vista, a login shouldn’t be necessary. (My thanks to Serdar Yegulalp for the elevation trick.).

Step 2. Switch to the command-line shell handler. Running script commands in a window will result in irritating pop-up messages unless you change to the character-mode version of Windows Script Host. To do this, enter the following command at the prompt:

cscript /h:cscript

Step 3. Familiarize yourself with SLMGR. Executed with no parameters, slmgr displays a screen of help text. With the parameters -dli (display license information) or -xpr (expiration), the program displays the activation deadline, either in minutes remaining or as a date and time, respectively.

To see the effect of these commands, enter the following in the command window, one at a time:

slmgr
slmgr -dli
slmgr -xpr

If you’ve just installed Vista, the activation deadline will be 43,200 minutes in the future, which translates to 30 days. If Vista was installed some time ago, the remaining time shown will be less.

In my testing, each command required quite a long time to provide a response — as much as one minute. Be patient and wait for the results from each command before trying the next. If you didn’t elevate your command window to have admin privileges in Step 1, you’ll see only error messages.

Step 4. Extend Vista’s activation deadline. The parameter -rearm changes the activation deadline to 30 days from today. SLMGR allows this extension to take place only three times. If you extend the deadline the day after you install Vista, you’ll get an extension of only one day, not an additional 30 days.

The following command changes the activation deadline to 30 days after the command is invoked:

slmgr -rearm

If the operation worked, you should see the message, “Command completed successfully. Please restart the system for the changes to take effect.”

It’s not clear where SLMGR stores the number of times that it’s been used to push the activation deadline back. If this number is stored in the Registry or in a system file, it’s likely that hackers will quickly find a way to eliminate even the three-extension limit.

Step 5. Reboot and test. A reboot is required to make the extension take effect. After the Vista desktop loads, you should repeat steps 1 and 3 to check on your new activation deadline.

The 120-day extension trick shouldn’t be confused with the Vista clean-install trick that I described in my Feb. 1 article. That procedure, which Microsoft also hard-coded into Vista, enables anyone to install the “upgrade” version of Vista over any running copy of Windows, even a just-clean-installed copy of Vista itself.

Microsoft’s developers reportedly programmed the Vista upgrade process to test that it’s running on any version of the OS — not just Windows XP, 2000, and other qualifying products — to make the coding process simpler.

Why does Microsoft allow 120-day extensions?

After my Vista clean-install article was published, a few readers asked whether I shouldn’t keep quiet about procedures like these. After all, as I myself stated in my article, installing the upgrade version of Vista on a clean hard drive might violate Microsoft’s EULA (End-User License Agreement).

First, and most importantly, I’m a journalist. If something is true about Windows, and it’s important for Windows users to know, I’m going to describe it for you as accurately as I can. Many sites on the Web are currently giving out half-baked explanations of Vista’s clean-install feature. I want you to at least have the right info. I’d never publish a technique for a zero-day virus attack. But describing a known feature of Windows that Microsoft built into the product isn’t comparable in any way to releasing viruses.

Second, the fact is that Microsoft itself is writing these features into Vista. If the Redmond company doesn’t want people to clean-install Vista or extend Vista’s activation deadline, a couple of lines of code would quickly eliminate these features.

Instead of leaving them out, Microsoft has deliberately programmed into Vista several back-door features that journalists are certain to find and publicize. These aren’t hacks that require brain surgery on Windows. They’re capabilities that have been specifically added into the operating system in ways that are easy for any Windows buyer to use.

There are only three explanations I can think of for Microsoft to include these kinds of back doors in Vista:

• The Windows development process is out of control and individual programmers are inserting any procedures they like that will make Vista a little more convenient for them;

• Microsoft executives believe that allowing clean installs of Vista and 120-day activation extensions will reduce the cost of providing technical support — more than these back doors will reduce the company’s revenue; or

• MS executives realize that the list prices of the “full” versions of Vista are absurdly high, and that building in back doors that will be widely publicized makes the price of the upgrade versions of Vista seem more reasonable by comparison.

One Microsoft executive, Eric Ligman, publicly criticized in a discussion forum my article on Vista’s clean-install method. I contacted him and asked why Vista’s upgrade routine will happily accept a clean-install version of itself, rather than making a simple test for a qualifying version of Windows. Is this an error on the part of the development team, or was it a Microsoft policy decision to quietly allow this kind of upgrade?

“I don’t believe it’s a bug in the system,” says Ligman, who is senior manager of Microsoft’s U.S. Small Business Community Engagement program. “But it’s not intended as a way to install an upgrade version of Vista without having a license for a previous version to do so.”

Ligman added, “I’m not the right person to comment on the thinking of the development team.” That’s certainly true, so I hope to reach someone within the ranks soon to clarify why a trivial version check wasn’t included in Vista’s upgrade routine.

In the meantime, Ligman points out that companies using Microsoft’s Volume Licensing program are entitled to the cheaper “upgrade” price for Vista even if the firms’ existing desktops are running very old operating systems, such as Windows 98, NT Workstation 4.0, or IBM OS/2. For details, see page 82 of a Microsoft Word document entitled Product List (February 2007).

Legitimate uses of the Software License Manager

Whatever the reasons for the until-now-secret features of Vista, the impact on Microsoft’s revenue stream if people began using these features en masse could be enormous. Consider the following scenario:

1. A college buys a single, retail copy of Vista;

2. Using the clean-install trick, an admin installs the single DVD onto an unlimited number of PCs, such as in classrooms throughout the school;

3. Using the 120-day extension trick, the admin makes it unnecessary to activate the copies until the end of the academic quarter; and

4. At the end of the quarter, the hard drives are wiped clean and the same DVD is used to clean-install Vista on an unlimited number of PCs for the new quarter that’s beginning.

This kind of mass duplication, of course, would clearly violate the Microsoft EULA. A school or company that installed this many copies of Vista from a single DVD would be wide open to an inspection by the Business Software Alliance, which obtains search warrants to conduct audits of machines companywide.

Despite the risks, however, many people around the world can and will use the built-in features of Vista to install as many copies of the operating system as they like.

Either Microsoft’s Vista developers are totally incompetent, which I don’t believe, or Microsoft officials at a high level are encouraging the introduction of these features, judging that the benefits outweigh the risks.

In any case, the Software Licensing Manager has several legitimate uses. Many of these are documented when you run slmgr at a prompt without parameters. I’ll just touch on a few here:

• You can install a new product key by entering slmgr -ipk productkey;

• You can display the installation ID by entering slmgr -dti so you can activate Vista offline (without an Internet connection); and

• You can clear your product key from the Vista Registry by entering slmgr -cpky.

This last command is potentially an important security feature. There’s no need for your product key to reside in the Registry once Vista activation is complete. It might be best to remove it, so it cannot be copied and sent to a hacker by a Trojan horse that might one day sneak onto your PC. I hope to print more detailed information about this in a future newsletter.

In addition to the above scenarios, there are many valid reasons for a Windows admin to extend the Vista activation date past its original 30-day limit. Companies that routinely build test PCs to try out various configurations, for instance, shouldn’t have to buy a new copy of Vista every time a machine is wiped clean and rebuilt. A particular testing process might last more than 30 days, requiring an activation extension.

Using the 120-day extension in various scenarios

My testing shows that slmgr -rearm will extend Vista’s activation deadline in all of the following situations:

1. A standard upgrade. If you installed Vista’s upgrade version while running Windows XP or another qualifying product, this is the ordinary case. The extension works with no problems.

2. A clean-install of Vista. If you use my Feb. 1 clean-install trick to install Vista on a clean hard drive, the command also works with no problems. There’s no need to first install the “upgrade” version of Vista on top of the clean-install of Vista before slmgr -rearm will extend the activation deadline.

3. An upgraded clean-install of Vista. If you’ve clean-installed Vista, and then upgraded Vista on top of itself, the slmgr -rearm command also works flawlessly to extend the deadline.

When the Vista activation deadline passes

Microsoft has baked the activation process into every version of Vista, and I believe that we’ll all be living with this mechanism for years to come. Unlike Windows XP, Vista has tougher rollback conditions when its activation deadline passes and activation hasn’t occurred.

An article (paid reg required) in Windows IT Pro Magazine’s December 2006 issue by Paul Thurrott, my co-author of Windows Vista Secrets, explains some of the behaviors you can expect after the deadline:
• “On a genuine, activated copy of Vista, users will have access to certain features, such as the Windows Aero user experience (which enables glass-like translucency effects and other visual niceties), Windows ReadyBoost (a performance-enhancement feature for systems with a USB-based flash memory device), some Windows Defender antispyware functionality, and optional downloadable updates from Windows Update. However, [if a system has passed the activation deadline] the user will lose access to those features and will receive persistent WGA [Windows Genuine Advantage] advertisements.”
As with Vista’s clean-install behavior, I don’t recommend that businesses try to save money by skirting Microsoft’s licensing scheme. You should use these tricks only for legitimate purposes — such as when you do, in fact, have a paid-for license for the qualifying software.

I wasn’t the first to discover the 120-day extension technique. As far as I can tell, an early description came from Jeff Atwood of the Coding Horror blog. I merely tested the procedure under various scenarios and found it to be reliable. I’d also like to thank reader Ernie Kitt for his research help with this topic.

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