A sneaky change in Windows licensing terms

A sneaky change in Windows licensing terms

Summary: Microsoft just released the licensing agreements for Windows Vista, and I read them carefully. Buried in the fine print is a dramatic change in licensing terms from the Windows XP versions. Think you can transfer a retail Windows license to any machine you want? Think again.

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TOPICS: Windows
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Update 2-Nov: In response to complaints from enthusiasts, Microsoft revised the terms of its license agreement. For more details, see "Microsoft changes Vista license terms." 

Update 16-Oct: For additional information about the new Windows Vista retail license, see "Get facts, not spin, about Vista's new license."

I've seen several sites point to Microsoft's new Software License Terms page, which contains PDF versions of the license agreements for many Microsoft products. Most sites that have commented on the new Windows Vista licenses have picked up on this blurb from the Windows Vista Team Blog:

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 read through the license agreement for Windows Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate (PDF) and saw lots of new language. Much of it just formalizes what Microsoft has been doing under separate agreements for some time, such as the Validation requirements introduced with Windows Genuine Activation.

But I have yet to see anyone point out one significant change in retail licensing terms. Think you can transfer that retail license to any machine you want? Think again. In Section 2, "Installation and Use Rights," the text reads:

Before you use the software under a license, you must assign that license to one device (physical hardware system). That device is the "licensed device."

Sections 15 and 16, "Reassign to Another Device," and "Transfer to a Third Party," are new. You can go read the exact terms for yourself. The sort version is that you may "reassign the license to another device one time" or "make a one time transfer of the software, and this agreement, directly to a third party." [emphasis added]

That limitation on retail licenses is a remarkable change. Previously, a retail license could be removed from one computer and reinstalled on another with no limits. Now, you get to reinstall one time and one time only.

I looked at the license agreement for Windows XP Professional (PDF) for comparison's sake. The difference is ... interesting. Section 1, "Grant of License," says, "You may install, use, access, display and run one copy of the Product on a single computer, such as a workstation, terminal or other device ("Workstation Computer"). Section 4, "Transfer," describes what you can do with the underlying license:

Internal. You may move the Product to a different Workstation Computer. After the transfer, you must completely remove the Product from the former Workstation Computer. Transfer to Third Party. The initial user of the Product may make a one-time transfer of the Product to another end user.

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.

Will this affect a lot of people? Not really. Those most likely to be affected are hobbyists who constantly rebuild, replace, and upgrade systems. Presumably, the new two-machine limit will be enforced by Windows Product Activation.

I wonder why this change didn't make it into a press release?

Topic: Windows

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354 comments
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  • So let it be written...

    So let it be done!
    cnfrisch
    • Want to try that again?

      Not sure what you mean by that, Carey. However, I do recall you pitching the value of a retail license a while ago for several reasons, including the fact that it allowed multiple installations. No more.
      Ed Bott
      • Final Licensing agreement not yet written

        I have not seen the final RTM EULA for the retail version of Windows Vista...have you?
        cnfrisch
        • Follow the links, dude...

          From the *official* Windows Vista Team Blog: "On that note, today MS.com published the retail license terms for Windows Vista..." Follow the link.

          Sounds pretty final to me.
          Ed Bott
        • Agreed, it will be changed, the above is clearly a mistake

          I agree, the EULA will be changed to make it fair for to the customer, like it always has been. What Ed posted and the link are clearly mistakes.

          TripleII

          From SiteMeter, stats on this blog. I have mailed the link many places, so I suspect the exposure will grow. I introduced statmeter just to track this blog.
          http://mostly-linux.blogspot.com/2006/10/part-1-of-4-linux-for-supernewbie.html

          Total 11,533
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          • Mike Cox you're not.

            [i]I agree, the EULA will be changed to make it fair for to the customer, like it always has been. What Ed posted and the link are clearly mistakes.[/i]

            The crowd here doesn't usually get subtle sarcasm, you need to lay it on thicker.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
          • The problem...

            with subtle sarcasm is that it does not transferr well in a written medium. I am an affectionado of subtle sarcasm, but I myself was sitting here, wondering if he was serious, or being sarcastic.
            Laurel Raven
          • Laughing Out Loud!

            How true!
            Cardhu
          • Gotta Agree . . .

            No Mike Cox, but still pretty sneaky. That one ALMOST slipped by me . . .
            jlhenry62
        • Odd are...

          You won't be able to read it unless you open the box, and once the box is open, you can't return the software.

          That crap should be illegal.
          BitTwiddler
          • should be illegal

            It is illegal, but crooks don't have to obey the law.
            Ole Man
        • Read Your History

          Anyone who has followed their downward spiral in ethics and morality knows what they will do. They don't need to see an EULA.
          Maybe they're waiting to see how much abuse their used-to-be-customers now-called-users will take before writing the final version?
          Ole Man
      • He's quoting The Ten Commandments movie

        He's quoting Pharaoh from the Ten Commandments.

        See IMDB:
        http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049833/quotes
        t_mohajir
        • Which bit did you have in mind?

          Was it

          [i]"Harden yourself against subordinates. Have no friend."[/i]

          or

          [i]"Do you mean to tell me he would turn the slaves against me?"[/i]

          :-)
          bportlock
          • I kinda prefer . . .

            The part where Pharaoh is casting out Moses from the kingdom (advance apologies for the bad paraphrasing):

            <i>Let the Name of Fairness be found no more in our EULAs, or other company documents.

            So let it be written, so let it be done</i>
            jlhenry62
      • Lordy...I have 4 machines in a constant state of upgrade

        As I said in the subject I have four machines here at home that are in a constant state of upgrade. I purchased an OEM package of licenses and typically have to reactivate each one about 3 or 4 times a year due to hard ware changes. Typically each gets a new motherboard about once a year. I'm now retired so four full featured copies of Vista, let alone office is out of the question. It looks like I'll be staying with XP Pro as long as possible, but how much longer will they be supporting that and what happens if I have to reinstall one after that? Will I even be able to activate it, or will activation force me to abandon it?
        rdhalsteatzd
        • End of support for XP is...

          January 1, 2007...tada! Even BEFORE the new Vista OS is released!

          Microsoft = Unethical = JOKE of a company!
          nomorems
          • PLEASE!

            Please tell me you are joking.
            Laurel Raven
          • He won't tell you ....

            ... but I will tell you he is flat out wrong! XP will be supported until 2016 in one form or another. The clue about him is in his moniker "no more ms".
            ShadeTree
          • Provide your source.

            No text.
            Cardhu