A Free Windows 7 Upgrade Could Cost You

If you bought a Windows Vista-based PC in the last four months, and you're now eagerly awaiting the launch of Windows 7, consider restraining your excitement. While many major computer manufacturers have promised free upgrades from Windows Vista to Windows 7 for anyone who bought a PC after June 26, 2009, what you don't pay in hard cash could still cost you in headaches.

I'm not just talking about the upgrade process itself, which can be exhausting. Glancing through the upgrade information pages for participating manufacturers, several red flags went up. Here are some things to watch out for when it's time to claim your Windows 7 Upgrade Option:

1. Getting the Upgrade Could Take a While

When Microsoft offered free XP-to-Vista upgrades two years ago, getting the disc became a nightmare for some customers. We've now seen the first foul-up for Windows 7, with Toshiba telling customers that its upgrades won't go out until December, according to Bright Side of News. (Toshiba previously said the upgrade would ship within 60 days of October 22.)

(Editor's Note: Toshiba has contacted PC World with amplification on this matter. Toshiba states: North American customers who purchased qualified Toshiba laptops after 6/26/09 and register for the upgrade on our site will receive their Windows 7 upgrade media in October. Specifically, Toshiba will ship the discs on 10/25/09. Also, Toshiba will soon release Windows 7 drivers for all our consumer laptops released over the past two years, ensuring that customers who purchased Toshiba laptops prior to 6/26/09 and purchase Windows 7 on their own can continue to get the most out of their purchase dollars.)

For other manufacturers, you'll need a couple weeks of patience, or maybe more. To leave the actual ship date open-ended, Hewlett-Packard and Dell say that upgrades will begin shipping after October 22, though Lenovo says upgrades will ship one to two weeks from your request. Acer says "shipments will begin in increments. All orders will be handled on a first-in, first-out basis." So if you bought a computer last week, you could be at the end of a long line.

A word of advice: If you can, order the free upgrade now. Most manufacturers -- Sony being the major exception-- are already allowing requests. Microsoft has a list of participating computer makers.

2. System Recovery Issues Abound

Say your HP computer experiences a hardware failure and needs repair under warranty. HP restores the computer to its factory settings, which means you'll be reunited with Windows Vista. No problem, as long as you've got a nice chunk of time to upgrade back to Windows 7.

Recovery issues aren't limited to HP. Softpedia reported that Windows 7 upgrades could kill the recovery applications that manufacturers include with their computers, though to be fair, people who purchase Windows Vista will deal with this as well.

3. You Need a DVD Drive to Install

This applies to anyone who upgrades to Windows 7, but as the optical drive becomes unnecessary for some users, I see trouble for recent computer buyers who skipped the DVD drive in their rigs. In particular, I'm thinking of Dell's Studio 14z and Acer's Timeline 3810T, which both ditched the optical drive for slimmer, lighter frames. Owners of those notebooks will have to buy an external DVD drive or borrow one from a friend to install the upgrade.

4. HP Hates Your Browser, Unless It's IE

Here's a minor nuisance for HP computer owners who've dropped Internet Explorer like a bag of dirt: IE is required to visit HP's Windows 7 upgrade order page. That's because the world's biggest computer manufacturer uses a Web program to validate your computer, and it only works in IE. If for some reason you don't have Microsoft's browser, you're told to contact Arvato, the third party that's handling HP's upgrades. Only one problem: the contact page isn't viewable in any other browsers, either.

5. Hope You Kept Your Receipt

Not all manufacturers are allowing upgrades without a proof of purchase. I'd say only a fool tosses his or her receipt for a computer, but, come to think of it, where is that receipt for the notebook I bought a few months ago? HP and Toshiba explicitly state that a proof of purchase, not just a serial code, is required.

6. Free, or "Free?"

When all is said and done, you might still have to open your wallet, due to shipping and handling charges and taxes. Lenovo charges $17.03 for U.S. customers, while Compaq, HP, Sony, and Toshiba charge some users, but not others, according to watchdog Edgar Dworsky of Consumerworld.org and Mouseprint.org. Acer, Asus, Del,l and Gateway don't charge U.S. customers for the upgrade, unless you believe that time is money.

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