Get facts, not spin, about Vista's new license

Get facts, not spin, about Vista's new license

Summary: Last week I documented a change in the terms of the retail Windows Vista license that will directly impact hobbyists and enthusiasts. Paul Thurrott spoke to a Microsoft product manager who says it's just a "clarification." That's a remarkable bit of historical revisionism and a major change in what Microsoft has been telling its customers for five years. But don't take my word or Paul's - go read the supporting documents for yourself.

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

Memo to Paul Thurrott: If you're going to write an article entitled "Windows Vista Licensing Changes: Everything you've read is wrong", it helps to get your facts right. After reading a post I wrote last week about Vista licensing, Paul spoke to a Microsoft product manager, who says there's no change in the license terms for Windows Vista, just a "clarification" of an existing restriction that already applies to Windows XP users.

I've dug deeply into this issue and I'm convinced that he's being spun by his sources at Microsoft. Unlike Paul, I'll give you links to all the facts, so you can read the supporting documents and decide for yourself.

For the record, Paul is responding to a post I wrote and published here last week. Here's how he kicks it off:

There's a funny myth going around that says you have a right to transfer a single copy of Windows XP (or any previous Windows version) to as many computers as you like, as often as you like, and for any reason you like. This myth exists because the Windows XP EULA is vaguely worded. It states, "You may move [Windows XP] to a different Workstation Computer. After the transfer, you must completely remove [Windows XP] from the former Workstation Computer." [emphasis added]

This is vaguely worded? Seriously, will someone please tell me what part of the section Paul quotes here is the least bit unclear? For a retail copy of Windows, you can move it to a different computer as long as you remove it from the former one. Period. Paul continues:

Pundits argue, incorrectly, that this EULA implicitly allows any user to continually move a single copy of Windows XP from machine to machine as often as they'd like. One online pundit decided this meant that "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 person is, however, incorrect.

Apparently, it is forbidden in the Thurrott household to speak my name. It is as if, in some fashion, speaking my name has the same effect as invoking the name of Beetlejuice. ("Ah, Ah, Ah... Nobody says the 'B' word!") So I am "one online pundit" and "that person." Paul also seems unwilling to link to my original post so that his readers can get both sides of the issue and decide for themselves. But the quote is taken directly from my post, so I am going to assume that Paul is talking about me.

How does Paul fact-check this assertion? He picks up the phone and talks to a Microsoft product manager, who tells him that the sky is green, rain falls up, and there are 25 hours in a day:

The Windows XP EULA appears to implicitly allow infinite transfers because it doesn't explicitly explain how many times one might transfer a single copy of XP. As it turns out, infinite transfers wasn't the intention. "This clause was always aimed at very specific circumstances," Microsoft general manager Shanen Boettcher told me. "Someone has a hardware failure, but still wants to run that copy of Windows on the new machine, for example."

The problem, of course, was that some people felt they could install a single copy of Windows as many times as they wanted. "It's always been per copy, per device," Boettcher said.

This is a remarkable bit of historical revisionism from the Ministry of Truth. ("Did we forget to say this only applies once? Sorry, that's what we meant.") Over the years, I have researched and written about Microsoft licensing extensively. I believe I've read just about every document Microsoft has produced on the subject of Windows licensing, and I have never heard this claim made.

Paul concludes:

With Windows Vista, the EULA has been clarified. It now explicitly states that a user may "reassign the [Windows Vista] license to another device one time." This, the pundits say, is a huge restriction that wasn't present in Windows XP. Many people incorrectly believe this to be the case.

Did I miss something? I try to be accurate, but I'm not perfect. So I went back through my archives and through Microsoft's website to see if I could find even a shred of documentation that supports this bizarre assertion. Alas, it's not supported by those pesky documents that Microsoft has been preparing and publishing for its customers for the past five years.

Retail copies of Windows cost more - much more - than OEM or upgrade copies. In exchange for that premium price, you get significantly greater installation rights. This is a big deal to hobbyists and Windows enthusiasts who want maximum flexibility in licensing. In the hundreds and hundreds of pages of Microsoft documentation I've read, I have never seen even a hint that there is any restriction on reinstallation of a Windows XP retail license, as long as the former copy is removed first. Until Paul printed this quote last week, I've never seen anyone from Microsoft make this argument, either. Not once.

Hundreds of millions of people have installed and used Windows over the years. Unlike Paul, they can't pick up the phone and call a Microsoft product manager if they're unclear about licensing terms. So they read the license agreement, which seems pretty clear to a reasonable person. And they search Microsoft's website for guidance on the subject and receive advice that is completely consistent with that interpretation.

Here's a sampling of the advice you'll get if you go to Microsoft's website and read up on licensing.

The Software Buying FAQ from Microsoft Small Business:

Q. Can I move software from one PC to another?

A. Software installed on a new PC can't be transferred to another PC. If you bought the program at a retailer or have a volume license, you may transfer the software from one PC to another as long as you have uninstalled it from the previous PC. [emphasis added]

The Education Operating System Licensing Q&A (Word document):

What is the difference between OEM product and Full-Packaged Product (FPP)?

OEM products are intended to be preinstalled on hardware before the end user purchases the product. They are “shrink wrapped” and do not come in a box like the retail products do. Full-Packaged Product (FPP) is boxed with CD(s), manuals, and the EULA and is sold in retail stores in individual boxes. The End User License Agreements (commonly referred to as “EULAs”) for OEM and FPP products are slightly different. One main difference is that an OEM operating system license (such as the license for Windows) cannot be transferred from its original PC to another PC. However, the FPP [retail] version of Windows may be transferred to another PC as long as the EULA, manual and media (such as the backup CD) accompany the transfer to the other PC. [emphasis added]

Knowledge Base article 302878, "Frequently asked questions about Microsoft Product Activation":

Can I transfer a license to another computer?

Consumers may use the terms of their license agreements to determine if transferring a license to another computer is allowed. If a transfer is permitted by the license agreement, the product has to be removed from the computer where it was first installed. Users may have to complete the activation on the new computer by phoning the Microsoft Activation Center. [emphasis added]

And the information is consistent across international boundaries as well. Customers in Singapore get the Stay Legal FAQ, which includes this Q&A:

Can I transfer software from one PC to another?

OEM software installed on a new PC cannot be transferred to another PC/notebook. If you bought the software (Full Packaged Product) at a retailer or have a volume license, you may transfer the software from one PC to another as long as you have uninstalled it from the previous PC. [emphasis added]

And the software licensing FAQ in the UK repeats this message:

Q. Can an operating system be transferred from an existing PC to a new PC?

A. It depends on the type of Windows software installed on your computer. Full-packaged retail versions of Windows software are generally transferable from one PC to another as long as the software is no longer installed on the original PC. An OEM software licence, however, may not be transferred or installed on another PC because it's tied to the original computer system on which it was installed, even if the PC is no longer in use. [emphasis added]

Not a single one of those sources even hints that there's a limit on the number of times a retail copy of Windows XP can be transferred or that Microsoft had the intention of limiting reinstallations to cases where there was a hardware failure. Exactly the opposite. And I challenge Paul or anyone to find me any document from Microsoft published before 2006 that includes that revisionist interpretation.

Which set of facts do you want to believe? You could rely on Microsoft's documentation as published over the past five years, or you could rely on a single product manager's bald assertion, printed without any further fact-checking by an online pundit who doesn't provide links to any additional information and just says, "Trust me."

If you choose the latter, do me a favor: Can you let us all know which provisions of the new license are vague and need clarification? I suppose we could wait until Paul talks to another Microsoft product manager in 2011 and tells us that everything we read for the previous five years was wrong. But it would be much more convenient to find out now.

Topic: Windows

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144 comments
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  • Licensing...

    I am still unclear and have not seen a clear answer...

    What is classified as another pc?
    A new pc or a pc I have upgraded?
    rhonin
    • Hang in there baby.

      Microsoft is writing a 'license' for this as we communicate. Gee...I wonder if the casual user is even aware of this limitation? Maybe users should revolt against OEMS and demand the full product, you know, like they 'used to do' some 2 years ago!

      More smoke screens from Microsoft I fear. Really, really good reason to go Mac!
      nomorems
    • Haven't checked with MS in a while

      but last time I did, OEM version of XP allowed replacing failed hardware including motherboard, but not upgrading hardware.
      swoopee
    • How does this affect ghost imaging??

      In our enterprise, we have XP desktops that each have an XP sticker on the case with a full product key (no "oem" in the middle of it). I have a standard ghost image that goes on all common desktops. When a user leaves the company, I re-ghost the machine using sysprep, which prompts me for the product key again after the new ghost image comesup the first time. I enter the same product key off the case of that computer, then call product activation to activate XP. Works like a charm, and I can re-image my machines as many times as I want, and I am not violating the "one copy, one device" agreement.

      Will I still be able to do this with the new Vista licencing?
      Bart-Man
      • what about partitioned machines

        How does the new licensing agreement affect me, if I run a copy of Partition Magic and have one copy of the op sys on one partition and a copy on the second partition? Do I have to get a separate license. I don't have to do that now with XP SP2.
        jfregus@...
      • RE: Get facts, not spin, about Vista's new license

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    • New or revamped ?

      I think you have to accept that your old PC with a new HD replacing the broken one, classifies as a new PC. Not sure though...
      pkrdk
    • Licensing

      OEM = Original Equipment Manufacturer - Dell, HP, etc. are OEMs. They preinstall the OEM version of Windows onto the machine you buy from them.

      Since I build all of my machines, I'm pretty much an OEM, and I can install either an OEM version or a retail version of Windows. If I install an OEM version and for some reason that machine craters, I cannot install that same OEM version onto another machine.

      However, if I install a retail version of Windows on this same machine and it craters, I can then install it onto another machine, and another, and another, etc.

      I believe you can now buy OEM versions of Windows without being required to purchase hardware with it; however, bear in mind that it can only be installed on one machine.
      nlward
  • Here it is

    [i]If you bought the program at a retailer or have a volume license, you may transfer the software from [b]one[/b] PC to another as long as you have uninstalled it from the previous PC.[/i]

    See? It was there all along.
    anonymous
    • re: Here it is

      Nice try, but that answer is in response to the question:

      "Can I move software from one PC to another?"

      Remarkably, in the English language, the word "one" has multiple senses.
      rseiler
    • Right....

      And that is what has everyone pissed.
      BitTwiddler
    • so if one is anywhere in the sentence....

      it counts eh?

      somehow i don't think that's gramatically correct...
      - Sam
      JoeMama_z
    • "Yagotta B Kidding" me!

      "If you bought the program at a retailer or have a volume license, you may transfer the software from one PC to another as long as you have uninstalled it from the previous PC."

      Of course you can only transfer it FROM ONE pc. What? You want to transfer it from 12 pcs TO ONE pc?
      Badgered
      • Language twisting

        Although not speaking English as my mother tongue, I think you are twisting the English language here.

        one = 1 PC
        one = a PC

        I'm sure Microsoft would have used the number '1' if they had meant it. After all these EULA's are not written by linguistic beginners.
        pkrdk
    • Who cares? I had XPoopoo Home on my computer...

      for a couple of days (was a new machine so it was being re-installed alot), got so fed up with the annoying pop-ups, tons of Microservices trying to 'phone' their master (not my master, that's for sure) and the activation nag (nevermind that it ran cr*ppier than 2k), I took it off, put the key sticker on the cd case, put the disk in the case and flung it into a drawer somewhere, never to be seen again until some sucker wants to buy it off me. Now I am back to PCLinuxOS as my primary OS and 2k as my secondary OS and am pleased as punch my 2x19" LCD monitors, Core 2 Duo E6700, Asus P5W DH Deluxe, 2GB DDR2 800, 2x320GB Seagates (SATA II, Raid0), HP Camera/Dock and printer all work marvelously in both. Window behaviour in XPoopoo was erratic and unrulely, never again, never ever again am I buying anything Microsoft. That goes for their office suite too, that's how p*ssed I am I wasted money on a bad OS from them. >:-[
      Linux_Fanboy
      • Wow. You have all that high end equipment

        and you were running XPHome?
        John Zern
        • Just curious,

          are you suggesting that XP Pro have been any better?
          swoopee
        • Go figure...hes a Linux user right.

          I mean you have all this high priced hardware and you go with XP home...even then it shouldnt have been that hard to configure.

          Ive worked with Linux and it makes little sense (or has little credability) that an OS that has flaws primarily due to being created for ease of use and simplicty of installation and configuration was so hard to get working right yet Linux went in and ran as smooth as silk with less tweeking or driver set-up.

          But, you just never know, possible I suppose. Just really odd.
          Cayble
      • Just go to a Linux forum

        We're here to discuss Windows licensing, not your decision to become a Linux Fanboy.
        dseward
        • Some People Want No Options Mentioned

          for how to avoid the Microsoft issues of licensing restrictions, activation, and validation.
          Cardhu