Consumer Nightmare: Vista Express Upgrade

Nearly two months after the release of Microsoft's newest PC operating system, many customers who signed up for the Windows Vista Express Upgrade program when they bought a Windows XP-based machine are still waiting for their software.

Due to large order volume, misdirected security measures, poorly communicated expected shipping dates, and simple breakdowns in customer service, the upgrade process for some people who purchased a PC in late 2006 and early 2007 has been slow and painful.

The problems with the program--which PC World had concerns about from the day it was announced--appear to be widespread. PC World readers who purchased new HP and Toshiba PCs have expressed dissatisfaction with the process; both those companies opted to have their upgrades handled by a third-party provider, ModusLink, which Microsoft had suggested to them. However, consumers also have been unhappy with companies like Dell, which opted to handle the upgrade process itself. Amber Bouman, who writes PC World's "On Your Side" column, addressed the Vista upgrade issue in March.

How the Program Worked

Microsoft's Vista Express Upgrade program--intended as consolation for the delayed launch of Vista--offered a discounted version of the new OS to anyone buying an XP-based PC between October 26, 2006 and March 15, 2007. March 31 was the deadline for customers to apply for their upgrade to Vista.

Upon purchasing the new PC, customers received a Microsoft Certificate of Authenticity (COA), a numbered sticker typically placed on the new PC's chassis. Later, when Vista launched, most customers could access an upgrade Web site. Once there, they had to enter their COA number, which would confirm their eligibility to receive a Vista upgrade disc in the mail--after they mailed or faxed in their proof of purchase. Of course, users would have to install the new OS themselves.

For customers who purchased a Windows XP Dell during that time frame, the process was slightly different. Dell allowed its customers to register for an upgrade when they bought the PC. This process eliminated the need to mail in a proof of purchase, although customers still needed to access Dell's Web site and enter their COA to receive a specialized Dell upgrade kit.

The Dell kit includes the Vista OS upgrade disc as well as a Dell Upgrade Assistant, which effectively prepares the XP system for Vista with the most recent drivers and an upgrade walkthrough.

What Went Wrong

Since the upgrades started shipping in February, PC World readers have expressed concerns over a variety of issues surrounding their upgrades. The most common complaint has been that the buyer's COA number was not recognized when the owner attempted to register it.

According to reader Scott Copperman, who purchased a new HP PC with the upgrade program at the beginning of March, "I went to [the HP Web site] to claim the offer. As I went through the site, I was denied because my COA was no good. Or so they said." After five days of back and forth e-mail messages and phone calls with ModusLink--the company that handled HP's upgrade process--Copperman was finally able to get a confirmation that he would receive the upgrade. But Copperman says he is still waiting for the software to arrive. "I'm exasperated with them," he says. "I feel taken advantage of."

And Copperman is not alone. Paul Hughes, who purchased his new PC in late December, also had difficulty with his COA: "I thought the whole [upgrade] process stunk." After sending his proof of purchase and COA to ModusLink, Hughes received an e-mail telling him that his COA was not recognized. The e-mail asked him to be patient while ModusLink made adjustments to its system.

Hughes eventually managed to get his upgrade disc sometime later--in a broken jewel case. "I think Microsoft has really lost some of their more ardent supporters on this," Hughes says. " I have always been a die-hard Microsoft groupie, but this whole mess has left a very bad taste in my mouth, and I would be more than hesitant to get involved in an upgrade scheme like this again."

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