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Windows 7 'Full Upgrade' Hack Is Illegal

As with Windows Vista, it didn't take very long for some clever hackers to figure out ways to install the Windows 7 Upgrade package on a PC that doesn't already have an earlier, qualifying version of Windows installed.

Some users may think that's a good way to save some cash. However, that doesn't mean it's legal, according to Microsoft.

"Over the past several days there have been various posts, etc. across a variety of social media engines stating that some 'hack' … shows that a Windows 7 Upgrade disc can perform a 'clean' installation of Windows 7 on a blank drive from a technical perspective," Eric Ligman, global partner experience lead for Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Group, said in a post on the company's SMB Community Blog Tuesday.

"From the posts I saw, they often forgot to mention a very basic, yet very important piece of information … 'Technically possible' does not always mean legal," Ligman added.

At issue are the terms of the so-called End User License Agreement or EULA. The EULA (pronounced "you-la") is the contract that defines the legal terms and conditions regarding what a user can and can't do with a piece of commercial software.

"According to the Windows 7 EULA, an upgrade license requires you to have an existing Windows license on the machine you are upgrading," a Microsoft spokesperson told InternetNews.com in an e-mail.

That means that someone who used one of the hacks to install a Windows 7 Upgrade onto a PC that didn't already have a fully-licensed version of an eligible copy of Windows -- either XP or Vista -- would be in violation of the EULA.

Many Web sites, including My Digital Life and the SuperSite Blog, have published workarounds that reportedly enable users to bypass the full version requirement.

A $100 more for Windows 7 Ultimate

As an example, Windows 7 Ultimate lists for $319 for the "full" version and "$219" for the "upgrade." If the user's PC does not already have a full version of an earlier release, that user would have to pay the higher figure. (Beta copies and release candidates do not apply since they are test versions, i.e., not for sale.)

However, if the user chose instead to try one of the workarounds to bypass the full version requirement, he or she could save around $100. At least, that's the argument.

"When these posts and write-ups state that you can install clean from an Upgrade piece of software and they fail to mention that you need to own a qualifying software license to be legal to use the Upgrade software for the installation, they give the impression that because it is technically possible, it is legal to do," Ligman said.

"Unfortunately, by doing this, they irresponsibly put end users at risk of loading unlicensed software," he added.

Microsoft has posted a discussion of supported ways to upgrade.