Let me download Windows!

I’ve bought a Windows 8 license at retail. Microsoft is now offering their users to download a fresh copy using only their product keys. What could possibly go wrong⸮

Due to some hardware issues I found myself swapping out some hard drives in one of my gaming PC. It was time to reinstall Windows. I’ve bought a Windows 8 Professional OEM DVD (the only edition of Windows 8 available at Norwegian retail stores when the system first launched.) My PC is equipped with the genuine sticker that came with it, so I also had my product key handy.

However, a major system update, Windows 8.1 Update, had been released since I bought my DVD. My PC also doesn’t have a DVD drive. After a quick web search using Bing—I was in the Microsoft mindset after all—I found out that you could download and create a bootable installation USB drive for Windows 8.1 directly from Microsoft. Hurray! Windows 8.1 is a free update to Windows 8, so I thought I would skip the whole Windows 8-to-8.1-to-Update-1 upgrade dance and go straight to Windows 8.1 Update 1.

To download the installation media, you needed to run a program that would download and prepare the USB drive for you. “User-friendly”, I thought. When this small program runs, it asks for your Windows product key. After spending five minutes entering the twelve character code printed in a six point font, I was told my code was not valid. Three minutes later I’d confirmed that I’d indeed typed it correctly and that something else was wrong.

Now falling a bit out of the Microsoft mindset, I used Google and discovered that Windows 8 product keys aren’t valid in the Windows 8.1 installer. Even though they are valid in Windows 8.1 itself and disregarding that 8.1 is a free update to Windows 8. I concluded they were being idiots and went on to find another solution.

Google also found a way for me to download and create a bootable Windows 8 USB drive. Bing could not find this page, by the by. Since I’d a Windows 8 product key, I should be able to download that one and then do the 8-to-8.1-to-Update-1 upgrade dance I’d wanted to avoid.

The procedure here was the same as for Windows 8.1: download a small program, run it, enter product key, and then it should work out the magic on its own given an empty USB drive. Unfortunately, this download program said “This product key can’t be used to install a retail version of Windows 8”. OK, so my retail version can’t be used to download a retail version.

By this time I’d begun to be more than a little frustrated with Microsoft. Why are they making it so hard on folks? The answer, this time discovered through Bing and not Google, turned out to be that the retail DVD versions of Windows 8 OEM edition product keys could not be used to download Windows 8. It only works with the “System Builder” or “Full Version” editions. Neither of which were available in Europe at the time that I bought my OEM edition. This was, of course, not documented on the promotional pages for the download-your-own-Windows program. I believe they must believed that this information overload could have confused people unnecessarily. Though, I feel they could indeed have afforded to include it in the small print.

Microsoft is penalizing their most loyal customers. The people who pay money directly to Microsoft for their product, who chooses to buy the product in the first place (instead of getting it as part of a new-PC-experience), and who are in fact your [closeted] fans. These are the users’ whose product keys aren’t good enough to use what is essentially a loyalty program. Can Microsoft not see that these are the people they should try to avoid alienating? They should in fact make an effort to keep them happy? Why alienate any customer’s product key in the first place?

In the end, I worked out a DVD drive and did the now offensive upgrade dance. The system now also has an extra disk dedicated to Steam OS (based on Debian GNU/Linux) in addition to the disk with Windows+Steam. Two of the most anticipated PC game releases this autumn are Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Civilization: Beyond Earth. Both will be available for both Linux and Windows. Do you care to take a bet on what operating systems I will be playing these games on?