The Devil's in the detail - Taking a look at Windows Vista licensing

Summary:"Sell the sizzle, not the sausage" and "bury any bad news" are some of the oldest but best marketing clichés in existence and they are as applicable today as when they were fresh.  Microsoft applied both these principals yesterday when it released details of software licensing terms for Windows Vista.

"Sell the sizzle, not the sausage" and "bury any bad news" are some of the oldest but best marketing clichés in existence and they are as applicable today as when they were fresh.  Microsoft applied both these principals yesterday when it released details of software licensing terms for Windows Vista.

I have to be honest and admit that I don't read every license agreement that flashes up on myThis is a real kick in the teeth for upgrade enthusiasts and early adopters screen or comes with software.  Some licensing agreements though demand close scrutiny because they can have broad impact.  Anything new or amended agreements from Microsoft fall into the "I need to pay close attention to this" category and so as soon as the updated software license terms were available, I was eager to see what was changed and added.

The new Microsoft Software License Terms document (PDF, 98KB) is 14 pages long and contains information about Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate.  My ZDNet blogging colleague Ed Bott has already taken a look at some of the changes in language in this document compared to the Windows XP license agreement (PDF, 176KB).  One of the changes that Ed specifically looks at relates to reassigning the operating system to another device and the transfer of the license to a third party.  Basically, the upshot of the new license is that you'll only be able to reassign the license to another device once and the software can only be transferred to a third party once. 

Here is the relevant language straight out of the Software License Terms document:

15. REASSIGN TO ANOTHER DEVICE.
a. Software Other than Windows Anytime Upgrade. The first user of the software may reassign the license to another device one time. If you reassign the license, that other device becomes the “licensed device.”
b. Windows Anytime Upgrade Software. The first user of the software may reassign the license to another device one time, but only if the license terms of the software you upgraded from allows reassignment.

16. TRANSFER TO A THIRD PARTY.
a. Software Other Than Windows Anytime Upgrade. The first user of the software may make a one time transfer of the software, and this agreement, directly to a third party. The first user must uninstall the software before transferring it separately from the device. The first user may not retain any copies.
b. Windows Anytime Upgrade Software. You may transfer the software directly to a third party only with the licensed device. You may not keep any copies of the software or any earlier version.
c. Other Requirements. Before any permitted transfer, the other party must agree that this agreement applies to the transfer and use of the software. The transfer must include the proof of license.
[emphasis added]

As Ed states in his blog post:

With a retail version of Windows XP, there are no restrictions on the number of times you can transfer the software from one computer to another in your household or office. That's about to change for the worse in Vista, with only one lifetime transfer allowed. It makes the outrageous price difference between retail and OEM copies even more difficult to justify.

From a hardware/upgrade perspective, this change is very worrying indeed.  Some people might call this restrictive, but I'll go as far as to call it Draconian.  Unless I'm mistaken, what this means is that a single Windows Vista license will only be valid for two PCs (three tops, if you count a transfer to a third party).  After that the product key supplied with the original copy presumably becomes a dead stick and will no longer work.  I'm also assuming (I'm having to assume a lot because I'm waiting for a load of answers from Microsoft on this - watch this space for more info) that licensing will be enforced by the Windows Product Activation and Software Protection Platform mechanisms.  What defines a "device" is also ambiguous and could mean a component such as the motherboard or even the system as a whole.  The license only goes as far as to describe a "device" as "physical hardware system".

I can see the problems now ... you buy a copy of Windows Vista, install it on your existing PC and activate it.  Later on, you discover that your existing PC isn't really up to the job of running Vista, so you either buy a new PC or upgrade your existing one. When you install Vista this time, that's it – your copy of Vista is now stuck on that PC forever.  If your new PC dies or has a hardware failure, as they so often do, then not only is it time for a replacement but also time for a new Vista license too.  That sounds plain crazy and is nothing more than a trick to move money from the pocket of the user and into the Microsoft coffers. 

This is a real kick in the teeth for upgrade enthusiasts and early adopters!

There are some other interesting additions to the license too.  One of these relates to using Vista in a virtualized environment.  For Windows Vista Home Basic and Home Premium, the language contained in the license is as follows:

USE WITH VIRTUALIZATION TECHNOLOGIES. You may not use the software installed on the licensed device within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system.
[emphasis added]

While for Windows Vista Ultimate is reads as:

USE WITH VIRTUALIZATION TECHNOLOGIES. You may use the software installed on the licensed device within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system on the licensed device. If  you do so, you may not play or access content or use applications protected by any Microsoft digital, information or enterprise rights management technology or other Microsoft rights management services or use BitLocker. We advise against playing or accessing content or using applications protected by other digital, information or enterprise rights management technology or other rights management services or using full volume disk drive encryption.
[emphasis added]

Robert McLaws on the Windows-Now blog reads this as meaning that you can't install Vista Home Basic and Home Premium into a virtualized environment, but to me the language suggests that a single Windows Vista Ultimate license allows you to install one copy on a device (a PC) and one copy into a virtualized environment. 

So, why did I accuse Microsoft of "selling the sizzle and not the sausage" and "burying any bad news"?  Because when the official Windows Vista Team blog announced that the retail license terms for Vista had been published but they chose only to highlight two changes:

Two notable changes between Windows Vista license terms and those for Windows XP are: 1) failure of a validation check results in the loss of access to specific features (this is the SPP news you’ve likely been reading about this past week); and 2) an increase in our warranty period from 90 days to 1 year, which brings Windows in line with most other Microsoft products.

I don't know about you, but I think that some of the other changes that Microsoft made to the licensing agreement are far more noteworthy.

Topics: Windows

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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