Microsoft blames Windows 7 upgrade mess on user confusion

Microsoft yesterday blamed user confusion for the problems many have encountered trying to move from Vista to Windows 7 after buying a discounted upgrade offered to college students.

"Digital River and Microsoft are aware that some customers from the Windows 7 Academic Store had difficulties completing the download or installation of the product," said a Microsoft support engineer identified as "Michael" in a message posted Sunday to the company's support forum .

Minneapolis, Minn.-based Digital River fulfills download orders for Microsoft's $29.99 Windows 7 upgrade offer to students. Several hundred users have said that they were unable to upgrade from Windows Vista to the new operating system after purchasing, then downloading, a Windows 7 upgrade, from Digital River.

"We are aware that consumers are encountering difficulties installing Windows 7 where the customer is currently running a 32-bit version of Windows such as Windows Vista, but purchased the 64-bit version of Windows 7," Michael said.

Last week, users reported that an error message prevented them from unpacking files downloaded from Digital River. The message read: "We are unable to create or save new files in the folder in which this application was downloaded."

"This error occurs when you are in the unloading phase of the 64-bit Windows 7 download process and are running a 32-bit version of Windows such as Windows XP or Windows Vista 32-bit," Michael added. "This is by design, as you cannot launch setup for the 64-bit version of Widows 7 while running a 32-bit operating system."

According to Microsoft, users can conduct "in-place" upgrades -- those that retain all data, settings and applications -- only from Vista 32-bit to Windows 7 32-bit, or from Vista 64-bit to Windows 7 64-bit. The company had spelled out the in-place upgrade paths last summer, before it released Windows 7.

"If you want to move from Windows Vista 32-bit to Windows 7 64-bit, or if you are running Windows XP, you have to do a "Custom" or clean installation that must be started by booting off the Windows 7 64-bit DVD," Michael stressed.

A Windows 7 custom upgrade, called a "clean" install by some, requires users to back up data and settings from Windows XP or Vista, install Windows 7, then restore the data and settings before finally reinstalling all applications.

Students who mistakenly downloaded the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 from Digital River should request a refund, Microsoft's Michael continued, then pay for and download the 32-bit version instead. He pointed customers to a page on Digital River's site where they could request a refund. "In the Web form, select the Order question option in the drop-down menu and include 'Refund and Request 32-bit' in the first line of the problem description," Michael recommended.

His advice runs counter to the policy listed on the Digital River support site, which says that there are no refunds for the student discount Windows 7 upgrade.

Michael claimed that Digital River has identified and contacted customers who have been affected by the download error. "Digital River has been making every effort to make it right for these customers," he said. The Microsoft engineer also said Microsoft would not handle support questions about Windows 7 unless customers were able to reach the initial installation screen; all issues prior to that step were to be directed to Digital River.

On Saturday, users blamed both companies for their problems, and were irked that neither had stepped up to accept responsibility or provide answers. "This problem is not being resolved by anyone," complained a user tagged as "tatguy6" on the same support thread Saturday. "Someone is to blame. I guess we are just gonna have to wait for someone to pull their heads out of their butts and do something for us to resolve this."

"I [have] had enough," added "arkavat."

Tatguy6, arkavat and several others said that they were, or had, filed complaints against Digital River with the Better Business Bureau.

Digital River has yet not responded to a request for comment made last Friday.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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