Microsoft changes Vista license terms

Microsoft changes Vista license terms

Summary: Who says Microsoft doesn't listen? Three weeks ago, when the new license terms for Windows Vista were officially release, one change set off an avalanche of feedback from the enthusiast community. Today, Microsoft rewrote that part of the license agreement. Individual users can now transfer a retail license from one PC to another or upgrade an existing computer without fear of being forced to pay again.

TOPICS: Windows

There's good news out of Redmond today for anyone planning a Windows Vista upgrade in 2007. Bowing to intense feedback from the enthusiast community, Microsoft has modified the license terms for retail versions of Windows Vista to allow end users to transfer a retail license from one computer to another, or to upgrade an existing computer without fear that they'll be locked out until they purchase a new license.

The new license terms say: “You may uninstall the software and install it on another device for your use. You may not do so to share this license between devices.”

That's a welcome step back from the sneaky change that had been embedded in the previously published license agreement, which restricted users to a one-time reassignment of a retail license. A subsequent attempt to spin this change as a "clarification" of the existing license terms only made the avalanche of negative feedback worse.

In sheer numbers, this change won't affect many people, but those who are affected represent some of the most vocal and enthusiastic members of the Windows community. I spoke with Shanen Boettcher, General Manager of Windows Vista Product Management, who acknowledged having received "lots of e-mail and other feedback" on this issue.

Here are the practical implications of the change:

  • If you purchase a new computer with Windows Vista preinstalled, or if you build your own PC using an OEM version of Windows, this change doesn't affect you. Your copy is locked to that PC and cannot be transferred to another.
  • If you purchase a retail copy of Windows Vista and install it on a PC, you can install that same copy on another PC, provided you remove it from the original PC. In this scenario, you may be unable to activate the new copy over the Internet, but you will be able to activate over the phone.
  • You can perform an unlimited number of upgrades to an existing computer running a retail version of Windows Vista. If those upgrades are significant enough to cause the computer to look like a new PC, you'll be required to reactivate within 30 days.
  • This change should resolve one issue associated with the use of Windows Vista in virtual machines as well. Under the newly worded license, you should be able to move a virtual copy of Windows Vista to a new physical hardware without violating the terms of the license agreement, provided that you remove the virtual machine files from the old hardware.

One detail about the new license-enforcement terms remains a mystery. How does Microsoft determine when an upgraded PC crosses over the threshold and goes beyond the specified "tolerance level"? In Windows XP, the algorithm used by Windows Product Activation was documented in a Technical Market Bulletin published around the same time Windows XP was released to manufacturing. For Windows Vista, Boettcher says, the algorithm has changed significantly. "The algorithm in Windows Vista has gotten a bit more intelligent and lenient," he told me. "Different components are assigned different values, with the hard drive and motherboard being the highest-weighted components."

Earliler this week, Mary Jo Foley published excerpts from a draft document on Volume Activation 2.0 that appears to confirm this change. That section (which refers to "retail activation") is not included in the final version of the document posted on Microsoft's website.

Boettcher argues that the algorithm has changed from its XP predecessor and that it's subject to change in the never-ending battle with software pirates. For Windows Vista customers, he says, the details are irrelevant: If you upgrade an existing PC, you'll be allowed to reactivate under the new license terms, and you'll have 30 days to do so, which is a significant improvement over the three-day grace period allowed when Windows XP goes "out of tolerance."

Update 3:30PM PST - The Windows Vista Team Blog has this mea culpa:

Our intention behind the original terms was genuinely geared toward combating piracy; however, it’s become clear to us that those original terms were perceived as adversely affecting an important group of customers: PC and hardware enthusiasts.  You who comprise the enthusiast market are vital to us for several reasons, not least of all because of the support you’ve provided us throughout the development of Windows Vista.  We respect the time and expense you go to in customizing, building and rebuilding your hardware and we heard you that the previous terms were seen as an impediment to that -- it’s for that reason we’ve made this change.  I hope that this change provides the flexibility you need, and gives you more reason to be excited about the upcoming retail release of our new operating system.

I'll have more to say about the new Windows Vista license terms and some encouraging changes in WGA next week.

Topic: Windows

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  • OK, Ed

    I owe you that beer.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Net Gain?

      I do wonder though what convinced Microsoft to change their
      minds? Was it the "threat" imposed by the purchase and
      acceptance of the Vista license? Or was it the numerous people
      who said this was the last straw and they were switching. Until
      the money starts leaving the coffers, or there is a genuine threat
      of people ditching Windows, these changes don't happen. When
      they do, they are marginal. Windows users tolerances have been
      carefully tested and returned a result that will be further tested
      in future. The bar can't be lowered all at once.

      Congratulations to all those that switched or made it clear that
      they were going to if this went through.
      Harry Bardal
      • Threats of switching are hollow.

        I don't think MS gives much weight to those who threatened to switch (I personally don't). Why would such a small change push them over the edge? Instead, I think the benefit to MS was very small because only a very small percentage of the user base actually runs the retail version. This would have only gotten smaller because the value proposition for the retail version just became far less for the very group that buys it today, aso many would have likely switched to the OEM version anyway. On the other hand, the new rules were going to be complex to manage and I would think involved more development effort into the WGA tool than they were worth.

        However, I do think that giving the users who threatened to leave the [i]impression[/i] that they aren't totally powerless in their relationship to MS was a great added bonus. This will help them implement other changes which will have orders of magnitude greater impact on revenue.
        • Small Change?

          I have no idea whether MS gave much weight to those threatening to switch. However, I for one decided not to change to Vista because of the "small changes." Why? I guess it's just the last straw in a long series of changes in how I can use MS software. Now that they have backed off of this unreasonable limitation to the use of Vista I guess I'll have to reevaluate. But they may have lost me anyway. You know once the straw breaks the camels back it's rather difficult to fix. Also as you correctly pointed out "This will help them implement other changes which will have orders of magnitude greater impact on revenue."
          • The Roman Empire ???

            Is VISTA worth all this trouble and the purchase price? It is simple, if you do not agree, then don't purchase it! Use some else! You wont type much faster then you already do, independently if the PC is a 800MHz or a 2.3GHz. Pictures and games? Yes, that is some difference, and a new car is a new car right, but do it need to be of this mark??
            It would have been smart to have a finger print license, or a eye globe print, for ID purposes, and then you can move this OP-sys to your next PC. But as always with everything man invent, there is soon a counter invention. What I am really saying is, wait with your purchase until this license thing has been adapted to some sensible use for the end consumer. The Roman Empire was the biggest there was, at least for some time, but it is no more, and we are not missing it much. The same will happen here.
        • errr... yeah....

          That's why I bought a KVM and an old GX150 ... to learn Debian while I waited for XP to EOL because of this EULA change. I wasn't bluffing - I was already preparing and serious about letting XP EOL as I upgraded.

          If SAAS is the next battle .. I can still pull my trigger. I don't HAVE to use MS Windows.

          The kids will learn to love the PS3 for games - which in all honesty is the ONLY reason why I have Windows in our house.
          • So MS won you back with this?

            For the record, I like linux (typing this on FF 2.0 running Kubuntu Edgy). I didn't say no one ever has or ever will make the switch. My point was that the vast majority of those threatening to make the switch over this would never really do so (or were really [i]already[/i] switching).

            If this retail licensing change won you back into the arms of MS/Windows, then yes you are one example of someone who threatened to switch who really meant it (taking you at your word). Otherwise, I think you actually proved my point.
        • Why would such a small change push them over the edge?

          While I NEVER ran a MS operating system I did not pay for (I am not a pirate), the requirement for XP activation drove me "over the edge" to linux more than 3 years ago. I know 2 other people who did the same thing. It's called the straw that breaks the camel's back. I'm sure some people had the same feeling about the proposed Vista activation limit.
        • Threats

          I have 5 computers with 5 copies of XP. I am costantly upgrading my computers and it is already a real hassle to contact Redmond every time I change something.
          After reading Microsoft's new license terms I think my next PC will be an Apple. It will run my existing programs and from what I read it is a better machine.
          I stayed away from Apple because I did not like the hurdles Apple put to make it hard to upgrade. It appears that Redmond is doing the same thing, so I'll buy the better machine and OS.
          • I wouldn't be too hasty...

            I'm beginning to read from others who have tried switching to Mac, and they are only saying what I have known ab initio: Mac is for kids, ... and some types of artists. There are nowhere near the choices and shortcuts that traditionally exist in the "IBM" legacy. The mouse is like an Etch-A-Sketch; it moves slowly, then plunges ahead uncontrollably, and the only "cure" for that is to slow it down where it requires the space of an area roughly the size of an individual school desk; all of which (as doctors have repeatedly told me and others I know) is one of the major causes of carpal-tunnel.
            You will miss the flexability and the precision you enjoyed in non-Apple machines, and you will have pain in place of other frustrations. I know, I must work with them in the workplace.

            Now this not to say that I endorse or encourage the use of M$; far from it. I have resented M$ for many years (decades, really) because of the way it fails and the unreasonable maintainence it requires before it yields reliable results, but I'm a "power-user" and seem to require much more of my machines than simple reading of e-mail and browsing porno-sites, so I do have more opportunity for disappointment.

            I had firmly hoped that SuSe or some other distro would come along and offer the public-at-large the plethora of "options" we truly need to see the large, if not total, migration away from M$, but now that the popularity of Open Source is being felt, both Apple and M$ are going to grab it, claim all of its benefits as part of their overall scheme, and with lying, cheating, bullying tactics, pull back the poor wretched masses yearning to breathe free.

            My decision to switch to SuSe this coming year, is seriously being reconsidered. I don't want anyone who's in bed with Gates or Balmer, even if it's rape.
          • What a load of Bull...

            You have obviously never used a Mac.
            I have switched to a Mac (pro via Mini) after using Windows since V1.2. The Mac does everything I need and a lot more. I would never go back to a Windows OS as a primary system. Im stuck with Windows at work.

            On the Mac I do run a virtualised Win XP under Parallels, but I will not be getting Vista as I have no need for it. Further as M$ have decided that Vista (home whatever) cant legally be run in a virtual machine I wont even consider it as a standby for those rare occasions I have to use Windows.
  • Good job!

    Well done all you watchdogs out there. Remember, you have the power in this relationship--if someone trying to sell you something does something you don't want, you don't have to buy their product. Keep this in mind as computer companies and media companies start piling DRM on you.

    Great work here, way to make your voices heard and to exercise your power.
    tic swayback
    • Are you kidding???

      Vista isn't out anywhere, ... except for "free-trial" versions. Who, in their right minds, would/could conclude that "not buying" what's not yet on the shelves accomplished anything???
      • No, I don't think he was kidding

        Though I could be wrong.

        It could have been the threat of "not buying"; one could deduce the uproar over the proposed license changes would have resulted in those individuals not buying the software. In other words, an anticipation.

        And actually, that could accomplish quite a bit.
        • Errare humanum est........To err is human.

          When I was reading your replay, honestly speaking, I thought it was me who had been saying those words and I believe many of us think the way you do.

          Fair play!
  • Last Straw

    This newest stunt by Microsoft has pushed me over the line. There will be no upgrade to Vista at my house. The next OS I install will be some version of Linux.
    • Um...

      You should've posted this comment on a previous article... if you read this one you'd have noticed they changed it so retail has no limit of activations.
  • Sanity Prevails - Finally

    Have been a long time Windows user, but all these WGA enforcements, sneaky license changes leave an increasingly foul taste in the mouth. This latest debacle by Windows on restricting reasonable use for Windows installation for Power users and especially doing so in an underhanded manner was insulting. So much so despite being a Beta Tester for Vista, I was not going to move forward and purchase. While sanity prevails (finally) in one area, one wonders the cost to Microsoft in what seems to be an increasingly confrontational relationship (ie PROVE to us you are not a stealer/thief/pirate). Leaves a bad aftertaste.

    ps. wonder if you go for the coupon upgrade path - does this count as "retail" version and therefore can be re-installed on upgrades ?
    • The coupon is for OEM versions.

      They are not going to upgrade you from OEM to Retail. You will be locked to the motherboard that shipped with the system.
    • Oh yeah, until they employ the "changable"

      clause in their EULA and press ahead after suckers have already - once again - trusted them. Dodge and weave, shot from the trees, draw them out with a white flag so you have a better view of them, then do whatever you want with your hidden agenda.

      Tru$t Micro$loth, they've never done anyone wrong; the DOJ and others were all wrong and Billy Bouy Gates was always generous with the money he stole --- made legitimately.

      You can bet they've learned their lesson on this one and will always be fair and honest, and - oh yes - endeavor to produce an even better product ... next time.