Upgrading your Vista could severely limit Windows 7

Windows7 home premium box shotMy main work PC still runs a copy of Windows Vista. I’ve tried switching to Ubuntu, but I still need Windows-only software too often for that to work out. So for now I’m stuck with Windows, and as long as I am, I figured I might as well upgrade to ‘7’. But as I found out today there’s a catch.

OEM licenses

I bought Vista with my computer in 2007. Like the majority of Windows versions that come with new PC’s it’s a OEM version, bound to this specific machine’s hardware. Microsoft’s OEM license doesn’t allow me to transfer it to a new computer. I contacted my computer’s vendor to find out if that restriction would still be in place if I used a retail upgrade disc, and they informed me it indeed would.

My computer is now over two years old. It was a pretty high-end machine when I got it, and it’s definitely got some life left in it. Still, I can definitely imagine myself upgrading it with a new processor and motherboard, or buying a new one in the foreseeable future. In both cases I’d need to also purchase another copy of Windows 7. That’s why attaching my Windows 7 license to my current PC seems like a really bad investment.

Same disc, different result

As it turns out, using the same retail upgrade package of Windows 7 can result in both a transferable and a non-transferable license, depending solely on the version you’re upgrading. Since most users have an OEM license, you’d better think about how long you’re going to be using the same PC before you invest in Windows 7. Especially if you, like me, tend to buy custom-built PC’s where buying an OS is optional.


The way around this is to buy the more expensive full version (around €200 compared to €130 for the upgrade). That would allow me to install the OS on one PC at a time with no further restrictions. Not only does this mean an extra €70, it also means my current Vista license would no longer be used. Poor value for money as far as I’m concerned.

UPDATE: Microsoft’s response

I spoke with the Dutch Microsoft sales department, and they made things a little clearer. The upgrade itself is a ‘transferable’ product. But, it needs an activated copy of Vista to install over. So I would still not be able to move Windows 7 to a new blank PC, because my Vista license is bound to my current hardware. I could however use the upgrade version on another Vista PC if I uninstalled it from my current PC first. My guess is that a couple of months from now you’re not going to be able to buy a Vista PC anymore, and if you’d find one it’d probably come with a free upgrade option anyway. Still not a very good proposition if you ask me.


  1. You know you can still use Ubuntu with a VM to run windows from within… or do a dual boot. There are other options.

    Comment by Christin — October 29, 2009 @ 2:58 pm

    • I know there are, and I’ve experimented with running Windows 7 in a VM. But if you need Windows every day there’s no point. I prefer Ubuntu for every machine I don’t have to run Photoshop on.

      Comment by Roy — November 1, 2009 @ 4:58 pm

  2. Wine runs things pretty nicely. See the AppDB. Photoshop CS2 works well.
    Can’t say the same about CS3, though.

    Comment by randomnut — November 29, 2009 @ 1:51 pm


    Single license software is a universal trend that Microsoft and other astute organisations have adopted. It’s been common knowledge for many years.

    If Ubuntu/Linux had as many features/support/functionality as Windows it would be very similar, if not identical in it’s reliability factor. Not that Windows is anything to be scoffed at…

    People who say Windows is unreliable are relating to software from over a decade ago, Windows me and earlier. Things have moved on and now, in fact, it is the other software companies who are behind the times. I mean, how many truly x64 bit programs do you see today?

    On the other hand, personally I wouldn’t go for Windows 7. It’s hardly an improvement on Vista but is still too new to have had all the important creases ironed out.

    Comment by Steven Bell — February 15, 2011 @ 4:31 pm