Microsoft: Europe customers must wait to upgrade Vista to Windows 7

Microsoft spokespersons have confirmed to Betanews, contrary to press reports earlier today, that at some point it does plan to provide European customers with a Windows 7E upgrade package -- a way to upgrade Vista installations to Windows 7, while enabling customers to leave out Internet Explorer 8. In all cases, that means uninstalling IE from Vista, which current builds of the Win7 upgrade are not capable of doing.

"As part of Microsoft's decision to offer Windows 7 without a browser in the [European Economic Area], we also had another hard decision to make: Offer both Full and Upgrade retail packaged product and delay the entry of Windows 7 into market, or not offer the Upgrade packaged product at launch," the spokesperson told Betanews. "At this time, we will not offer an Upgrade packaged product in Europe, but in a way that does not penalize our customers."

The key phrase here is at this time, and Betanews was told that it means exactly what it implies. Microsoft has intentions of making an upgrade version available at some point, and the spokesperson's elaboration indicates that point should fall before the end of the year.

"We will start a price promotion effective immediately that will discount Full retail packaged products for E editions of Windows 7 to the prices of our Upgrade products," Betanews was told. "This promotion is planned to last at least until December 31, which will give us time to work through the best offers and approaches going forward without impacting our customers in the EEA, Switzerland, and Croatia in the meantime."

Microsoft's UK spokespersons tried yesterday to inform British press sources of essentially this same news, though perhaps without the reference to December 31. But in a stunning misread, many sources interpreted the news to mean that the company would never offer European customers upgrade editions for Windows 7E.

Yesterday, Betanews was informed by Microsoft that upgrade availability and pricing for Windows 7 in Europe, including the UK, would be announced on July 15. Part of the reason for that delay, it was clear, was the company's effort at complying with a decision made at the behest of European regulators, to offer customers the option of not installing Internet Explorer 8.

But that poses an engineering problem, one which Microsoft will have to work overtime to solve: For consumers with Vista already on their PCs, full compliance would mean creating an option for consumers to choose Windows 7 without IE8 -- which in all cases would mean uninstalling IE7. As of now, there is no formal process for uninstalling IE7 from Vista, although there already is a way for users to uninstall IE8 from Win7 on demand.

Thus a typical upgrade edition of Windows 7E, free or otherwise, will not be available on October 22. Certainly Microsoft has to make something available in Europe on "GA-Day," so it will present Windows 7E's full retail edition on October 22, for the price it would normally charge for the upgrade edition. Those prices will be revealed, we're told, on July 15. However, customers purchasing the earliest Win7E on that date will not be able to use it to upgrade their Vista-based PCs and keep their programs -- only a clean install will be permitted.

But that led the BBC to lead its story with the remarkable statement, "Microsoft will not be offering an upgrade version of Windows 7 in Europe," based on a comment from UK company spokesperson John Curran which the BBC ran as follows: "We will not be able to offer an upgrade product within Europe."

The part about October 22 was omitted, thus making Curran appear to say that a Win7E upgrade would never be available.

Microsoft's spokesperson did make it clear to us the company is keeping its options open, which may mean a real Windows 7E upgrade edition could be pushed past the end of the year. "We are still working through our best approaches to the market," the spokesperson said. "We will provide more details on future plans when they are available, but we are committed to making sure that existing Windows customers in Europe continue to have a choice of 'Upgrade pricing' options available in the rest of the world." UPDATE Late Friday evening, the spokesperson offered a clarification, stating that this sentence referred to the company's intent to offer pre-order deals, such as those first offered to US customers on Friday.

That may be especially difficult now that US customers who buy HP or Lenovo PCs with Vista pre-installed, from today forward, will be eligible for free Windows 7 upgrades. The North American editions of the product will not include the option to leave IE uninstalled.

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