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Blame Microsoft for the Windows 7 upgrade shambles, not the EU

Surely Microsoft should be able to work out a way for us to upgrade our Windows installations to Windows 7, rather than forcing a full re-install?

Last week was not Microsoft's finest hour. For years, it's been working on the successor to Windows Vista, and there's a lot at stake.

Rightly or wrongly, hordes of consumers haven't flocked out to buy Vista. The problems Microsoft had when it launched created bad perceptions in the minds of consumers that have never gone away.

Now add Apple into the mix. Never one to miss an opportunity to put the boot in, it's been running a smart ad campaign that's cemented the perception of Windows as a bloated, virus-ridden OS for boring office drones.

Windows 7 is Microsoft's answer to its critics, and its success will be key to retaining its massive market share. Essentially Windows Vista with a few extra features and a less pretentious name, overall reaction to it so far has been positive, and rightly so. Vista is actually pretty good now, so Microsoft can't go far wrong if it basically leaves well alone.

But just as everything looks to be turning up roses, what does Microsoft do? Annoy the whole of Europe by decreeing that, unlike the rest of the world, we won't be able to upgrade existing installations to Windows 7. Instead, we'll have to install a fresh copy of the software, copy our data over and re-install any applications we had before.

This decision isn't just a major pain in the bum, it's going to cause many PC users real problems. Leaving aside the fact that not everyone has the technical nous to make comprehensive backups of their data, the legions of people that have bought computers with software pre-installed could be out of pocket.

The days when new computers came with backup CDs are largely a thing of the past. If your computer came with an anti-virus program, office suite or photo-editing tool, it's likely they're contained in a hidden partition on the hard drive, designed only to be accessed if you choose a full re-install of the OS. That means you probably won't be able to access them once you've installed Windows 7.

Some people may be grateful for that -- this stuff isn't referred to as 'crapware' for nothing. But there are some decent bits of software out there, such as PhotoShop Elements and Premiere Elements. Regardless, the point is that consumers shouldn't have to be forced to work around this simply by switching from one Microsoft operating system to another.

What possible justification can Microsoft have for causing all this headache and disruption? The company is blaming the EU, saying it has been forced to release a different version of Windows in Europe from the rest of world following anti-trust rulings.

This is nothing more than spin. There's no technical reason why simply stripping Internet Explorer out of Windows should mean that everyone has to install a fresh copy of Windows. In fact, Microsoft told The Guardian in an interview that it "simply didn't have the time to do upgrade testing".

No time? Who's it kidding? The EU made its ruling in 2004. Microsoft lost an appeal against it in 2007. That's more than enough time for one of the largest, smartest, most profitable software companies on the planet to work out a solution to this simple issue.

Microsoft chose not to put testing for this on to its product-development schedule for Windows 7. Instead, it's throwing its toys out of the pram and blaming the whole thing on Europe, rather than simply solving the problem it created.

It's a dumb and unnecessary decision and it's not the way you win people's hearts and minds. I'm hoping there's still time for a re-think, with some sort of download released that will let people upgrade, although it would have to be released a month or two after the official launch of Windows 7.