Oh for crying out loud!

Look, there's a standard for what happens when you buy a software upgrade. Either that's just done on the honor system or the upgrade install asks to see your original software disc. Not so Windows 7 (which I'm learning to hate just as much as you might think). No. The plan for installing a Windows 7 upgrade on a freshly formatted hard drive is to install XP or Vista first and then install Windows 7 over top of it.

The product key is for an upgrade version of Windows 7 and a previous version of Windows wasn't on your computer when Windows 7 was installed. To install an upgrade version of Windows 7, Windows Vista or Windows XP must be installed on your computer. If you formatted the drive before starting the installation process, you won't be able to use the upgrade product key to activate Windows 7. To activate Windows 7, you'll need to install your previous version of Windows, and then reinstall Windows 7. For help with the activation process, go to the Microsoft Support website.

- from the Windows support site

If only XP and Vista had a bullshit registration system such that Microsoft could identify product keys for those products ... then this could simply ask for two 25 character strings - the original license and the upgrade. But nooooo.

I'm going to try copying an old XP virtual machine and see if I can upgrade that. We'll see. Grrr.