For Windows customers without immediate access to MSDN (or the defunct TechNet), acquiring genuine Windows ISOs has been a frustrating and ridiculously complex experience: Microsoft tells you to ask your hardware manufacturer for a Windows ISO; the hardware manufacturer either ignores the request or sends you a crap-filled recovery DVD, frequently charging you for the inconvenience.
That changed several years ago, when Microsoft contracted with outsourcing company Digital River to provide download services for Windows bits. But in the past few days, the links for Windows 7 SP1 versions at Digital River stopped working. It isn't clear if there's a technical problem or if Microsoft's contract with Digital River has lapsed.
Most Windows customers came to know about Digital River through various Windows student/academic discount offers: Digital River apparently ran the student discount programs and provided "genuine" Windows bits for download. Over the years, many Windows experts -- including MVPs posting on the Microsoft Answers forum -- pointed customers to the Digital River links that contained real, direct-from-Microsoft copies of the software. Microsoft MVP and Answers forum moderator Andre de Costa put it this way:
Since it is being download directly from Digital River servers, as long as you own a genuine license, which you probably should have already, then you are free to download it. The way I see it, the license takes precedence over the medium. If you bought Windows 7 retail, then it will already be accompanied with install media, if you bought it from the Microsoft Store for instance, you have the option of downloading it anytime you want or have discs shipped to you or if its a box license, you will have two physical discs. The persons these Digital River downloads would be most suitable for, even if they didn't purchase through the Student upgrade program are persons with OEM preloads who might have lost their recovery partitions or media and can't bother with the process of obtaining recovery media. Same applies to retail discs, the process of ordering, shipping, nominal fee.
Worth noting: A year ago, Digital River announced in an SEC filing that it had come to an agreement with Microsoft to "build, host and manage the Microsoft Store, an e-commerce store that supports the sale and fulfillment of Microsoft and third party software as well as consumer electronics products, to customers throughout the world." It's possible that downloads from the Microsoft Store may, in fact, be coming from Digital River servers.
Links to Digital River's servers for Windows 7 SP1 bits were widely published shortly after SP1 was released. While using Digital River's bandwidth to download Microsoft products seems a gray area, the fact is that Windows 7 SP1 would run for up to 30 days without a product key -- clearly, Microsoft allowed installation of the product by those who didn't have a product key -- and the only way to get a permanent copy of Win7 SP1 was by purchasing a key from Microsoft or one of its dealers.
Starting about March 20, the Win7 SP1 links to Digital River stopped working. I can find no explanation from either Microsoft or Digital River for the interruption. A request for information from Microsoft's PR agency didn't bring an immediate answer. (I'll update this post with future details.)
Oddly, the Digital River links for Windows 7 itself are still working fine. According to Jan Krohn at HeiDoc.net, the only versions currently available from Digital River are the windows 7 RTM (not SP1) versions in U.S. English and Spanish.
If you want Windows 7 SP1 in either U.S. English or Spanish, you have to download and install Win7 from one of the links, then go through the (lengthy) process of applying Service Pack 1 from Windows Update.
It's possible that Digital River's servers are down and have been down for a week. Given Digital River's prominence in the e-commerce community, however, that seems unlikely.
It's also possible that Digital River's contract with Microsoft is being tested. MVP and Answers Community moderator J W Stuart points to an article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, dated last May, that says, "Digital River Inc. shares rose 4.25 percent on Wednesday after it announced that it had extended is distribution deal with Microsoft to March 2014. Microsoft is Digital River's largest customer, accounting for about 28 percent of the Minnetonka company's revenue last year."
Perhaps we're witnessing the beginning of the end of easily accessible, verified genuine Windows 7 bits.
This article, "Windows 7 SP1 downloads dry up at Microsoft distributor Digital River," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.