Sam Redman's Musings

Random thoughts on a variety of subjects

Microsoft’s great Windows 7 beta tester scam

by Sam Redman

I just completed an unofficial (techy and somewhat complicated) “workaround,” which delivered perfectly an updated version of the release copy of Windows 7 and I was able to keep all of my files and programs intact after having been a Windows 7 beta tester.

Now this might sound like something you would have expected which I should have been able to have done simply and without any difficulty. But it was all accomplished in spite of a very bizarre Microsoft policy toward their beta testers, which was nothing more than a greedy (and cruel) grab for probably an extra billion dollars in revenue.

I now have an updated version of Windows 7, done against their will with the half-price update version… and even that cost me $238 (which I had no knowledge when I agreed to the beta program, I would have to pay). But, at the point when I got the message that my computer would be “bricked” in a few days if I didn’t install the retail version of Windows 7, I would have been happy to pay the full price; that wasn’t the issue with me. What I didn’t want to happen was to lose all of my installed software programs. With the workaround (ironically only available by using the cheaper price “update” version), I was able to keep all of my installed software. That’s the cruel part of Microsoft’s devious scheme… in order to get that extra money from all their Beta testers, Microsoft fixed the upgrade version (the only one which preserves your files) so it wouldn’t function for their beta people, those people who had unselfishly worked (without compensation) to help Microsoft to get their product ready for the market.

Yes, Microsoft put a special text “code” into the Windows 7 upgrade packages, so that they would not install over the expiring beta version and therefore only the full (very costly) clean install of their most expensive version (called “Ultimate”) of Windows 7 would work for beta testers, meaning that not only would they have to spring for that $320 plus tax version, but all of a beta tester’s installed software would be lost. All files are lost actually, but documents, photos, videos and the like are easily recovered from a simple external drive backup… a big hassle, but certainly doable (and something you should have anyway). However, restoring any backed-up installed software? That’s often impossible, because without the original cd’s which are often lost or the online provided license codes (which most people simply paste in and don’t make copies) reloaded programs don’t function.

Now you might think that once that beta period was over you would have had the option to go back to your already (previously paid for and installed) version of Windows XP or Vista , which came on my laptop, but no… that was only possible if you had the original cd (and no one has those if their operating system came to them factory installed). Plus, if any beta tester witlessly had gone to the store and purchased the cheaper Windows 7 Ultimate upgrade version (or anything less than an Ultimate full version, like the Home or the Professional versions) only to discover that none of those would work, getting a refund from an opened package would be nearly an impossibility, maybe doable by making lots of calls and going though lots of procedural “red tape.” But most likely they would end up with a useless disk and they then would have been out over $600 dollars, plus lost all of their installed programs.

This is a “story behind the story,” which I am surprised has not appeared in the media at all. This is the tale of how shabbily Microsoft has treated their beta testers. Ironically, the crux of their ad campaign “Windows 7 was my idea” is based largely on the contribution from the army of beta testers who are the ones who provided ideas and feedback regarding features and problems. But yet, not only was no consideration given when the beta time period expired (like perhaps a discount on an upgrade) but these contributors were, coldly and unapologetically, left with a situation requiring the purchase of the most expensive version, coupled with the prospect of llosing all of their installed programs. Cruel, opportunistic, greedy, insensitive… all those terms, and more, describe the way Microsoft has handled this situation.

I had received a pop up message telling me that my beta period was ending and that I had only 14 days left to install “any version of Windows 7 Ultimate” and that I would need to backup all of my files and programs. That message wasn’t entirely clear, but it did sound ominous and so I did a full harddrive backup on an external drive (thank goodness Seagate included software on their drive, which made that an automatic situation), because I wondered if perhaps they might be implying that only a clean install would be possible, which I knew would wipe everything. I was aware that would mean that saving most of my installed programs would be to no avail and that they would be lost, because I had purchased most through downloads and probably wouldn’t be able to locate most the original disks from the few which I had installed from cd’s.

So I made a call to Microsoft support (talking to someone seemingly in India or Pakistan). He had to put me on hold numerous times to check with someone with answers. I asked whether I could do an upgrade and not have to do a full clean install (losing all my files and programs). I was told that there was no way to upgrade, without purchasing the full version and that none of my files or programs would be preserved (the only way was to rewrite something saved in a previous external backup). I exhaustively explained to him that this would cause me to lose a lot of my software and that such a situation was unacceptable.

However, after many of those “let me put you on hold” situations, all with negative replies, I was finally read a legal sounding statement that I had been properly informed when I began my beta testing that all my files would be lost at the end of the beta test period (which certainly was not true). Yes, there had been the generically phrased warning that all critical files should be backed up, like you see on lots of various installations, but those statements had not been clear that only a clean “wiping your hard drive” installation would eventually be possible or that even my factory installed Windows Vista would also be eliminated. And most significantly, no one explained that by becoming a beta tester I would be committing to a $320 plus tax purchase. I, like most testers walking into this as a fun project, would have never participated if that risk and expense had been fully explained. I then became politely insistent to talk to a technician who could offer a solution, but was told that I could not and so I was left to fend for myself.

At the store, I was told by the Best Buy computer section manager that he had been informed to tell customers who had been beta testers that only a full install “Ultimate” version (for about $320 plus tax) would work after the Beta period expired and that the Ultimate Upgrade version (still an outrageous price for a beta tester to have to pay at $220 with tax) simply would not work. I held out the hope that still it might be possible (because their warning message had said “any version” of Windows Ultimate), so I bought a copy of the “upgrade” version, hoping for the best, paying $238.14 (Best Buy store) in Dallas, TX, However, when I tried an install from the CD, I was told with an onscreen message that I wasn’t “eligible” for using the update version, that only a full (clean) install of of the full package of Windows 7 Ultimate would work.

However, “welcome to the 10’s’;” there is the miracle of the Google search (Bing would have worked too) and it brought up a Gizmodo.com posting telling about an article on Maximumpc.com which detailed a workaround that most people who are not technically oriented (and that would be a lot of the beta testers) simply would not be able to do. And after following the instructions exactly… (I had to go buy an 8 gig usb flash drive to make it happen), I now have a complete upgrade from the lower price package and most important all of my software is intact (a couple of the built-in Lenovo Thinkpad help tools didn’t survive, but the list was small and I never used those anyway). So, thanks a lot to Maximumpc for the method (and to Gizmodo for giving the link)…. all this makes me feel like we “beat the system.”

Don’t be fooled if you see any article telling how Microsoft “reversed their policy” and gave a free version of Windows 7 Ultimate to their beta testers. That was just a publicity ploy done in July 2009, after some preliminary backlash started on their paid subscription tech blogs. The catch was that this “give away” only applied to a very, very few of their initial testers (those who had received a special private invitation). It did not apply for all those who had received the general “public” invitation, which was the vast majority (probably 99.999 %) of all the beta testers (like me). No… those were the ones targeted for the scam. So Microsoft, upon getting some initial flack in the summer on their subscribed tech boards, did a so-called “policy reversal” so that a favorable announcement would be out there for the media (and search results) and then they quietly perpetrated their crime on all of the rest of their trusting beta testers, which was a revenue generating ticking time bomb set to go off on March 1, 2010 without even a peep of any media announcement.

This is a story which oddly has not been told in the “main stream” media. Microsoft made a very devious executive decision, evidently simply to garner additional revenues from those people who were kind enough to act as beta testing “guinea pigs.” Their corporate greed created a policy, which not only milked money from their blindly trusting beta testers, but caused those unsuspecting volunteers potentially great harm.

    First, they were forced to make a purchase ($320 plus tax for the full version and even for someone like me who had the workaround, a $220 purchase) which was not explained when the invitation to beta test Windows 7 appeared online. Had they asked for a credit card at that time, they would have had very few takers.

    Second, they all had the inconvenience of having to do an emergency backup of all their computer’s files (involving for many the purchase of an external drive) and then (after their new full Windows 7 Ultimate installation) they had to reload all of their photos, videos and documents. Of course, while all that is annoying, saving and reloading documents, photos and such is not really evil, because that’s probably a good practice for everyone to start.

    Third, in what was a most heinous act, Microsoft simply turned a blind eye to the potential financial loss to their testers resulting from their unrecovered installed software programs, most of which cannot be restored without the original cd’s or downloaded license codes (often lost or misplaced a few months after purchase).

Yes, my changing one line of text instructions in the cheaper install package (well, I had to do a lot of work, creating a usb flash drive clone of the cd, after making that text change in a hard drive mirror of the purchased install disk and then installing from the usb drive), saved all of my installed files and programs. Microsoft deviously created that instruction in the retail upgrade package to force the beta testers to have to buy the full price, total install, version, completely disregarding the consequences to those people who helped them test and promote their program. That’s just nasty.

Would Apple do something like this? Maybe… the lure of increased revenue is the root of all kinds of evil.

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This entry was posted on February 28, 2010 by and tagged , , , , .