Windows Anytime Upgrade (WAU) is an upgrade method offered by Microsoft and selected licensed resellers for users who wish to upgrade any non-Ultimate edition of Windows Vista or Windows 7. The Windows 7 version of Windows Anytime Upgrade introduced many improvements, notably the upgrade time has been reduced to around 10 minutes, and upgrade license keys can be purchased at retail. Windows Anytime Upgrade DVDs were only used for Windows Vista.
Windows Vista Anytime Upgrade was a full in-place Windows reinstall that usually took considerable time and required the original Windows Vista DVD with the same service pack level as that of the installed edition. Windows 7 Anytime Upgrade does not require physical media and installs the extra components of the Windows 7 edition from the Component-based servicing (CBS) store located on the system.
Microsoft's current marketing material states that all installation media will contain all the functionality of the highest SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) and that higher level functions will be disabled through winlogon.exe and pidgen.dll. This is what is also used in differentiating between Windows XP Home and Windows XP Professional. In practical terms, this means that the license purchased online effectively determines which version of the operating system customers can upgrade from and to.
The benefit of WAU is that if one decides that one wants Windows Media Center, Aero, or Windows Fax and Scan out of a computer that currently runs the Home Basic edition, one could complete the upgrade without needing to acquire a different installation disk and without requiring a reinstall of Windows.
Upgrading to another version of Windows 7 currently requires the purchase of a license online, or by manual application of a license key which can be purchased at retail. For online purchases, there is no key to input, as the upgrade process is automatic and takes around 10 minutes. The license download can be achieved direct by either going directly to the website address or by using the Windows Anytime Upgrade feature included in the Control Panel. One can then complete the process by downloading the license software that is required for the process.
Users are required to complete the upgrade by installing the proper files associated with the edition unlocked with their downloaded license package using one of several methods. The Windows DVD media (Windows Vista only) can be used so long as it's marked with the label "Includes Windows Anytime Upgrade". An OEM can also preload files onto the hard drive of a computer running Windows Vista or Windows 7. Finally, an OEM may include a separate Anytime Upgrade DVD along with, or instead of, the typical restore disk. If any of the above are not present, then a Windows Anytime Upgrade DVD can be ordered by request during the upgrade process for a nominal shipping and handling fee.
Windows Anytime Upgrade for Windows Vista was available in the US, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Japan. Pricing varied greatly by location with those in the US and Canada paying substantially less than those in Europe. The user's location was fixed during the order process using IP localization and the user had no opportunity to change this during the order process. Windows users in other countries such as New Zealand and South Africa do not have access to the service. With the release of Windows 7, the Microsoft website states "Windows Vista Anytime Upgrade is no longer available. Please upgrade to Windows 7".
Windows Anytime Upgrade Packs
To expand the limited availability and accessibility of Windows Anytime Upgrade, Microsoft has introduced Windows Anytime Upgrade Packs since May 2007 in North America, EMEA and Asia-Pacific countries. These packs are available in retail as well as online stores.
Since February 2008, in some countries where it was previously possible to upgrade using a downloaded license and the original installation media, users attempting to purchase an upgrade via the Microsoft website are now informed that they can only receive the upgrade via a mailed Upgrade Pack.