Surprises in the Windows 7 license agreement

Over the weekend, I had a chance to spend some quality time with the leaked Windows 7 build that’s zipping around the Internet. No one at Microsoft will confirm whether this code is the same as the beta due to be officially released in early January, but it bears every earmark of being the real thing. One of the first things I did before installing the software was to read the end user license agreement (EULA), carefully. Most of it was boilerplate, but I found a few surprises hidden within the legalese, including an expiration date that suggests a summertime release.

Over the weekend, I had a chance to spend some quality time with the leaked Windows 7 build that’s zipping around the Internet. No one at Microsoft will confirm whether this code is the same as the beta due to be officially released in early January, but it bears every earmark of being the real thing.

One of the first things I did before installing the software was to read the end user license agreement (EULA), carefully. Most of it was boilerplate, but I found a few surprises hidden within the legalese, including a revision code at the end, “EULAID:Win7_B.1_PRO_NRL_en-US,” which indicates that this is indeed Beta 1. Here’s a summary of some other interesting additions:

  • You can install as many copies as you want. The agreement specifically waives any restriction on the number of copies you can install:

    You may install and use any number of copies of the software on your premises to design, develop and test your programs for use with the software.

    I expect this wording is from a build specifically released to software developers. This wording might change to a more general “for evaluation only” clause in the public beta release.

  • Don’t use it in a production environment. That’s generally good advice for any product with a beta label on it, but in this case it’s explicitly covered in the agreement:

    You may not use the software in a live operating environment unless Microsoft permits you to do so under another agreement.

  • The software expires on August 1, 2009. Although I’ve read reports from other testers of a different expiration date, the copy I looked at includes a “Time-Sensitive Software” clause that reads in part: “The software will stop running on August 1, 2009. You may not receive any other notice.” That timeout date adds further credence to the notion that the final release will be ready in May or June.
  • It’s OK to install in a virtual machine. The license agreement for the original release of Windows Vista includes some truly opaque wording about installing in a virtualized environment. This wording was significantly cleaned up for the Vista SP1 license agreement, and this same language appears in the Windows 7 EULA. The “Use with Virtualization Technologies” section is straightforward:

Instead of using the software directly on the licensed device, you may install and use the software within only one virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system on the licensed device.

  • You’ll need to take a few extra steps to lock down your privacy. In section 4, the license agreement specifically notes that some features that normally require you to opt in are instead turned on by default:

    Because this software is a pre-release version, we have turned on some internet-based features by default to obtain feedback about them […] You may switch off these features or not use them.

    Most of the services on the list are fairly benign and involve little risk of divulging personally identifiable information. However, if you work with sensitive data files you might want to turn off the Customer Experience Improvement Program and automatic error reporting options.

  • Activation and validation are alive and well. Anyone who was hoping that Microsoft would back off from its hard-line antipiracy initiatives might be disappointed. The license agreement specifically describes activation and links to a privacy statement that says activation is required for Windows 7. The lengthy section on validation is identical to the one in Vista SP, including the bold-faced warning:  “You are not permitted to circumvent validation.”
  • No benchmarks allowed. As in previous beta releases of Microsoft operating systems, the license agreement includes a prohibition on speed tests:

    You may not disclose the results of any benchmark tests of the software to any third party without Microsoft’s prior written approval.

Of course, most people don’t bother to even read license agreements, so it’s unlikely that this one will be followed strictly. In fact, I suspect that some people have been clicking their stopwatches feverishly over the past few days in anticipation of another round of benchmark results, regardless of what the EULA says.

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