Windows licensing still a confusing mess and alienates enthusiasts

Summary:Microsoft has made a real mess of explaining their Windows Vista licensing agreement terms. If professionals who are familiar with navigating their way around press releases and complex EULA agreements find the wording complex and ambiguous, what chance does a regular user have of coming up with the right answer?

Microsoft has made a real mess of explaining their Windows Vista licensing agreement terms.  If professionals who are familiar with navigating their way around press releases and complex EULA agreements find the wording complex and ambiguous, what chance does a regular user have of coming up with the right answer?

Thurrott has used the same trick with regards to the Vista license that I've seen Microsoft use when quizzed over WGA validation failures - play down the numbersI'm still trying to get answers to some questions from Microsoft regarding the new Windows Vista retail license agreement that surfaced on the web last week, but it appears that Paul Thurrott has had a little bit more luck and posted some new information on his SuperSite for Windows.  However, I think that Paul has seriously missed the point when it comes to certain aspects of the Vista license agreement.

He begins the article by saying that "virtually everything you've read online about the changes to Windows Vista's end-user license agreement (EULA) is wrong" and then goes on to back this statement up with a series of points.  Here's a quote from the article:

Microsoft is further limiting your rights to transfer Windows to new PCs? Wrong. Microsoft is limiting your ability to upgrade your PC? Wrong. Microsoft is limiting the Vista versions you can install in virtual machines? Well, that one is partially correct.

The problem here is that Thurrott has used the same trick with regards to the Vista license that I've seen Microsoft use when quizzed over WGA validation failures - play down the numbers.  Allow me to explain what I mean.

When quizzed over WGA, Microsoft are happy to supply a whole raft of numbers - how many activations, the success/failure validation ratio, the percentage of failures due to leaked volume licensing keys ... the list is long.  But to direct questions such as how many users with a legal license have been flagged as running a non-genuine copy of Windows, Microsoft then resorts to fluffy terms such as "a handful of users".  Handful seems small and insignificant.  Nothing to worry about.

On reading Thurrott's article on Vista licensing I see the same kind of tactic being used.  For example, here's what he has to say about the overall effect of the Vista retail license:

Every version of Windows is accompanied by a EULA. This document is a contract that specifies your rights with regards to the copy of Windows you just obtained. The thing is, most people--over 90 percent--get Windows with a new PC, according to Microsoft. And their rights are substantially different from the rights of a customer who purchased Windows at retail.

So, since the Vista retail license only affects 10% of users, we shouldn't worry about it.  Minimizing the problem in an attempt to make it go away.

What about this bit about transferring a copy of Windows from one PC to another:

What's more amazing is that the number of people who actually try to do this is incredibly small. Since you can't transfer a copy of Windows that comes with a new PC anyway, less than 10 percent of all Windows licenses are transferable at all. And of those, only a tiny percentage of users have ever tried to even transfer a Windows license once.

Well, that’s alright then!  Because this type of license only affects 10% of all users, and because only a smaller, unspecified percentage ever actually transfer a copy to a new computer anyway, we’ll take away their right to do so.  Forget that these are users who have chosen to run Windows on their system over all the other operating systems available and didn't just get Windows bundled with the PC.  Way to go to annoy the influencers!

Again, the same thing when it comes to upgrading Windows-based PC:

Fewer than 5 percent of PC users ever open a PC case let alone perform major hardware surgery.

I think that a license agreement needs to be written in language that's as plain and clear as possible.  After all, the majority of users faced with such agreements don't have the benefit of a huge law firm on retainer to help explain it to them.  I also dislike agreements that rely on policies that aren't included as part of the agreement.  If you are a PC enthusiast who regularly upgrades your PC, you fall into a gray area in terms of the license agreement

"This is a fairly rare thing," Boettcher [Shanen Boettcher,Microsoft general manager] said. "Edge cases can be accommodated through customer support, but it's a relatively small group: People who are building their own PCs; hard core enthusiasts." Long story short, you'll have to talk to a human being and explain what happened. Just as you have had to do with XP.

Again, this worries me because the small number of PC users who probably spent the most money on hardware and software are having their rights eroded away in the license agreement and are instead having to rely on undocumented internal guidelines and policy.  I know that this is only going to affect a small number of users, but why not cater for them? It might push that 14 page license document out a page or so, but who cares about that?

I'm also none the wiser as to the stance that Microsoft has taken regarding running some versions of Vista within a virtual environment. 

"You cannot install Windows Vista Home Basic or Home Premium in a virtual machine, at least from a legal standpoint."

Why?  What's the point of that?  Why add such a strange restriction?  The reason that Thurrott offers literally knocked me sideways:

And though pundits might like to complain about this apparently arbitrary decision, the reality is that very, very few people can ever come up with a legitimate reason to run, say, Vista Home Basic in a VM. And those that want to, can, if they don't mind violating the Vista EULA and not receiving support.

I can think of a number of very good and perfectly legitimate reasons for running Vista Home from within a virtual environment - ranging from testing software apps to doing security research.  I can't think of a single good reason why Microsoft would make this change to the license agreement.  The argument that "very, very few people can ever come up with a legitimate reason to run" these operating systems inside a virtual machine doesn't hold water.

Overall, I'm still concerned by the changes made to the Vista licensing agreement.  If the number of users that are moving the operating system from one system to another PC are small, why does Microsoft find it necessary to remove these rights from a small number of enthusiasts.  Alarm bells should be ringing and people should be worried.  But then there’s so few of them, it really doesn’t matter that much …

Does it matter to you?

UPDATEEd Bott has posted a really in-depth look at the Vista license agreement.  He takes a broader look than I do here (I've tried to limit my coverage to how it affects those who upgrade and tweak their system a lot and those that work within virtual machines.  I encourage you to read his thoughtful post.

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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