One of the nice things to come out of Microsoft’s complete overhaul of the Windows installer for Vista and beyond was that it did away with the idea that different variations of Windows needed different discs. Previously each distribution of XP (Home/Pro/MCE) required its own disc, and then each license type (OEM/Retail/VLK) also required its own disc. This lead to an astounding number of disc types, and complete and utter frustration when for users attempting to install Windows and not having the correct disc to go with the key they had.
 
With Vista’s image based installer, we saw Microsoft consolidate all of this – one disc could contain every distribution of Windows, allowing a user to always be able to install Windows with any Windows disc, regardless of what their key was. This greatly simplified the installation process, resolving one of the most frustrating things about installing Windows XP.
 
So imagine our surprise when we’re taking a look at our TechNet copies of Windows 7 and find that there’s a different installation disc for each distribution of Windows. With the version of the Windows installer that comes with Win7, there is a new file at /Sources/ei.cfg that tells the Windows installer what OS it should install. Here’s what the file looks like from the ultimate disc:

[EditionID]
Ultimate
[Channel]
Retail
[VL]
0

When the Windows installer sees this file, it becomes keyed to whatever distribution the file specifies. In this case with an Ultimate disc, we cannot install Home Premium or Professional. We have not yet had a chance to test OEM and retail keys since we don’t have both, however it certainly looks like the installer is going to make a distinction there too.
 
Perhaps the most interesting bit of this is that the installation process itself hasn’t changed – the Windows installer still supports One Disc to Rule Them All operation, and the Windows image that comes with Ultimate for example has absolutely no problem installing lesser versions. In fact if you remove ei.cfg so that the Windows installer is not told to install a specific version, it will revert to One Disc mode. The distinction between discs is entirely trivial, dictated by a single 51 byte configuration file. You can have a One Disc installer, Microsoft just don’t want it to be the default action for some reason.
 
Now to be fair, this didn’t entirely catch us off-guard. We first saw this file and its functionality with the Win7 Beta, but until now we did not know if this was something that was specific to the testing versions of Win7, or if it was going to be pushed out in to retail with this limitation. Now we know our answer.
 
The biggest downer though is that this file is fairly tricky to remove. For copies of Windows packed in ISO files or burnt to discs, this requires remastering the ISO/disc in order to maintain its bootability – it’s not possible to just copy the contents to a new file/disc sans ei.cfg and have a One Disc. Building a proper bootable ISO/disc is still more of a dark art than a science. Users looking to install Windows from a USB flash drive will have an easier time – since installers set up on those types of drives are rewritable it’s easy to remove the offending file. Though this may not be the case with officially distributed flash drives should Microsoft go ahead and distribute Win7 that way, as rumors suggest they will.
 
In any case this is a significantly disappointing action coming from Microsoft. The One Disc returned the sanity to installing Windows, and made having so many distributions more bearable. Now as far as pressed media is concerned, we’re back to the dark ages of Windows XP (I guess Microsoft really was trying to copy everything about XP?). Geeks would be well advised to burn a copy of Windows 7 with One Disc capabilities as soon as they have it – if the experience is anything like Vista then the benefits will quickly make themselves apparent.
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  • IKeelU - Friday, August 07, 2009 - link

    Are your copies supposed to be identical to the COTS discs? Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, August 07, 2009 - link

    Yes. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Wednesday, August 12, 2009 - link

    So what is the problem here ? You're worried that now instead of having a single disk for all installs, now you need a disk for each installed version ?

    Or maybe you're more worried about the fact that your "one disk to rule them all" will no longer work with that key pirated around on the internet in form of a text file ?

    Seriously guy, I have seen *you* make much bigger mistakes than this; if in fact someone even considers this a mistake. When you buy a copy of a Microsoft operating system, everyone knows that you're not really purchasing the software, but the key/license to use that OS. Technically, you, I and every other regular joe can NOT just buy the key, and use it with any ole install media. That is reserved for large vendors, or perhaps large customers who usually pay someone else ( probably a Microsoft partner ) to install thousands of copies; and it is up to these partners to pass on the savings or not.

    In the latter case, your point is moot, and this is the only real situation I can see your point would be valid. So again, I have to ask; What is the problem ? You buy a licenses/key, it comes with media that is supposed to work with it. Maybe you were hoping to install the same copy for which you only have one legal license for ? If you have a *need* for this type of thing, perhaps you should contact Microsoft for a means to do what you need; Legally.

    Now, if this bothers you that much, there are plenty of "free" Operating systems out there that I am sure you will be happy playing around with. Whats that you say ? Most current game titles wont run on Linux, BSD, OpenSolaris, BEOS . . . ? You cutting edge technology hardware has no driver modules in those given OS's ?

    Maybe your problem is not that bad after all eh ? Perhaps you should be whining the the OSS's ear as well ? Oh, right, I forgot. You had to pay for that Microsoft operating system, and they held a gun to your head as well I suppose ?

    Seriously . . .
    Reply
  • perral1 - Wednesday, August 12, 2009 - link

    You aren't very smart are you? You can't see outside your narrow, pathetic worldview to consider that other people might have legitimate reasons for wanting this? Let's jump to the pointing-fingers-piracy conclusion why don't we, since clearly if you don't need it, no one else does?

    Let me just give you one example: let's say you have family (questionable). Let's say you're decent with computers (ditto). Let's say much of your family isn't. You will probably be asked to fix said family's computers. A lot. Many OEM computers do not include installation media. Other times, it'll be lost. Windows installs are often ruined by various malware, poor practices, etc. Sure, sometimes they can be fixed, but sometimes they just really need to be wiped clean. Guess what you can do? Well, with Vista, just grab your own (Retail, Ultimate) disk and go use the (OEM, Home Premium) key from the back of their computer and bam. You're done.

    You even prove everyone's point when you say "When you buy a copy of a Microsoft operating system, everyone knows that you're not really purchasing the software, but the key/license to use that OS." Exactly. So why does the media matter, and why does it have to be restricted to the license you bought?

    Sorry for being offensive but...well, you were too.
    Reply
  • EveningStarNM - Tuesday, November 17, 2009 - link

    Yes, his criticism of your arguments were penetrating and he employed some (rather artful) sarcasm. That is always a fair tool in debate. But he stuck to the logic of the argument. You, on the other hand, descended to insults unprovoked. You lose my respect when you use ad hominem attacks, and when you focus on personality above principle. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, August 18, 2009 - link

    "You even prove everyone's point when you say "When you buy a copy of a Microsoft operating system, everyone knows that you're not really purchasing the software, but the key/license to use that OS." Exactly. So why does the media matter, and why does it have to be restricted to the license you bought? "

    Sorry, I missed this part and did not really address it.

    Do you know the differences between OEM bulk licenses, the OEM licenses, and retail copies of media ? Just a small part of these licenses is bulk; no media, OEM; one time non transferable install only. Retail; Unlimited install, one machine at a time only. There are other things for each type listed in the EULA . If you install a different media for a machine, that renders your license void. It does not matter if both media types are the same or not, but how the media was licensed,to whom, and whether or not the media is transferable or not.

    Typical examples of a lot of people breaking the law, is using an OEM copy install on the same machine more than once, on multiple machines one copy at a time, Or giving a computer to another party with an OEM copy installed on it. Whether this is right or wrong in your view, or mine is irrelevant. It *is* technically illegal. Whether Microsoft actually pursues these issues on an individual scale is entirely up to them. And no, they often do not.

    Now, notice that I did not use any "finger pointing" or "name calling" while addressing your post.
    Reply
  • fincrisp - Wednesday, August 19, 2009 - link

    Just one correction to your point. You apparantly are mixing up the two types of OEM versions of Windows. 1) OEM Bulk (as you mentioned) 2) OEM for distribution. Now the differences....OEM Bulk, no tie to actually media, the OEM, ie Dell, HP, Acer, Sony, etc. Receives one copy of Windows and then pays for each key distributed, (very cheap). If you notice none of the manufatures include discs anymore, but the recepient is allowed to make as many copies as they want, but is tied to the one computer. Therefore there is NO tie to a disc. The second, OEM for distribution, IS tied to a disc and there fore is more expensive than the first, this copy is allowed to be installed on as many computers as you like, as long as it is not installed on more than one at a time. There fore the license is technically transferable, but the transfer MUST be tied to hardware. You can buy OEM versions from anyone on the internet, usally sells for 1/2 the price of the Retail version, Microsoft just requires that something hardware wise must be purchased with it...hard drive, motherboard, cpu, power supply, etc. So to sum up, yes you are correct and you are wrong it depends on the type of license, if it is an OEM bulk, which is what the computer MFG's generally use, then yes you can install from one of your discs and use the license to complete the install. If the license is from a OEM for distribution, then no its not legal. Reply
  • Penti - Saturday, September 12, 2009 - link

    Your confusing it, It's the system builder (OEM) that buys the right to use a custom image (Windows OEM Preinstallation Kit or OPK) to install the OS, not the consumers who get this right.

    There is also no OEM version for "distribution" it's meant for small system builders (which makes it meaningless for enthusiasts you really need retail when building your own PC you can't act as your own system builder as you don't resell the system and can't offer required services to do so). The end-user license is the same. If you refurbish a PC other rules applies, you have to relicense the system if there's no disc or if you upgrade the motherboard (then it becomes a new computer, for end users that means retail again). Microsoft has pretty much removed any incentive to refurbish or sell used PC, or buying them. If you buy a PC with only a COA and no media your running a unlicensed OS if you install Windows from another media. And a retail license cost's as much as a used PC.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, August 18, 2009 - link

    There is one problem with your "family" view. Using your own media as such is not technically legal. There is a reason why OEMs do not pay what you and most everyone else pays for licences. Actually, there are two,and a possibility for a third. First reason would be the obvious lack of media distributed with the licences. Second would be because large OEMs are definitely Microsoft partners that distribute the various OS's in bulk. The third *possible* reason would be all the media that comes preinstalled on a given copy of an Operating system distributed by the OEM. These companies who make this software are very likely partners as well. Not to just Microsoft, but to the OEMs themselves.

    As for my dim view, it is not *my* view. Rather it is Microsoft's view, and I do not like it any more than the next person. But if you want to use their software *legally*, then you better take a closer look at their EULA before you say anything about it.

    Technically, back with XP, from what I understood, if you contact the OEM who distributed the license, and if you asked them for a copy of the media; they were obligated to do so. That may have changed with Vista, but it is the correct way of doing things. Not using a copy of someone else's media, which is keyed/licensed differently.

    Just because you think something is right, does not make it legal. Same goes for anyone.
    Reply
  • redrumkev - Tuesday, August 18, 2009 - link

    Perrel,

    I had to create a login just to comment to your posting! You ARE 100% Correct.

    My uncle purchased a dell (2.8 P-4) so he probably got it like 4-5 years ago. I went to his house to do a reinstall as the O/S was acting very strange. Can't find the disk, I had two or three different copies of windows (this was XP), none of which would except "HIS LEGAL KEY, which was on the side of the machine". I quick call to dell showed that "a specific disk" could be mailed out, but since the unit was out of warranty, the cost for this was going to be ~$200. I told him (this was back in June) to hold off wait for the "Vista to Win7 upgrade" and purchase a new entry level system then.

    So the idea of having one disk that contains all versions is great. Especially for me (the family computer fixer guy). Also, from a sales standpoint, it is much easier to get people IMO to upgrade if they already have the disk. Want ultimate? Just change code (via internet purchase) and you are ready to go, you don't have to wait a week or pay $25 for overnight shipping.

    Regards,
    Red
    Reply

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