Virtual insanity in Redmond

Virtual insanity in Redmond

Summary: Whoever's writing Microsoft's new license agreements needs to spend some time in a remedial English course. The spin artists of Redmond have issued another "clarification" of their latest restrictions on using Vista with virtual hardware. It's terrible news for a small but influential group of Windows users.

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TOPICS: Windows
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Last week I offered my interpretation of the new licensing terms affecting the use of Windows Vista in virtual hardware.

Microsoft says that's not what they meant at all. They've issued yet another "clarification," telling Gregg Keizer at TechWeb that "Vista Home Basic and Home Premium are not licensed for use in a virtual machine."

According to Keizer, a Microsoft spokesperson told him that only Windows Vista Business and Ultimate editions can be used with virtual hardware. The spokesperson was quoted as saying, "Virtual machines are used primarily by businesses in production settings."

This is part of the latest spin from Redmond, as evidenced by its appearance in a Paul Thurrott article I deconstructed earlier this week. Paul wrote:

Currently, the majority of Microsoft's virtualization users fall into exactly two groups: business customers and enthusiasts. Business customers will want Vista Business and enthusiasts will use Vista Ultimate.

This is either cluelessness or wishful thinking. In fact, I can think of several important groups of Microsoft customers that have perfectly legitimate uses for running multiple editions of Windows in virtual machines:

  • Software developers are among the biggest users of virtual machines. If you're developing a commercial program, you need to test it on all the versions of Windows that your customers are likely to use. In Microsoft's world, those developers are going to need to maintain separate physical machines to perform compatibility testing with home editions of Windows Vista.
  • Security researchers like ZDNet's own Suzi Turner need a controlled environment to do their work. They routinely install spyware and visit dangerous websites to document the atrocities that befall Windows users who click on unsafe links. In Microsoft's world, they're expected to use physical hardware (a terrible idea) or use the expensive Ultimate Edition, which has a different feature set than the home editions that are most likely to be targeted by spyware pushers.
  • Analysts, reviewers, documentation specialists, book authors, and journalists (like me) need to be able to test software in a multitude of environments to see how it performs. Virtual machines are the ideal way to do that. Restoring a backup copy of a virtual machine to perform some tests takes a few seconds. Restoring a physical machine to a base configuration can take a half-hour or more per test.

I've spent years reading and interpreting license agreements, and after I read Keizer's article I went back and reread the Vista license terms. I still don't see how any reasonable person can read the actual license terms and come up with Microsoft's interpretation. Go back and read my article again and tell me that the terms I quote are clear to a reasonable person. In fact, the new agreement is not just poorly written, it's incomprehensible.

In my opinion, there are two huge issues that this licensing brouhaha raises.

One is the need for Microsoft to go back to the agreement and rewrite it in plain English (and then translate it into the other languages they use around the world). As it stands right now, the virtualization terms are vague and do not allow a customer to make an intelligent decision about what rights they're agreeing to.

Even more important is encouraging respect for the license agreement itself. Microsoft does not provide any technical barrier to running the home versions of Vista in a VM. Their restrictions are purely legal and completely arbitrary. People in the three categories I listed above who have legitimate reasons to run a home edition of Vista in a virtual machine may not legally do so, even if they pay for it and comply with every other term of the license agreement. If they follow Microsoft's interpretation of the agreement, Microsoft doesn't get a dollar more, but the customers have to hassle with physical hardware and spend hours doing what could be done in minutes with a virtual machine. That policy is stupid, arrogant, and short-sighted.

Topic: Windows

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  • The question stands

    [i]One is the need for Microsoft to go back to the agreement and rewrite it in plain English (and then translate it into the other languages they use around the world). As it stands right now, the virtualization terms are vague and do not allow a customer to make an intelligent decision about what rights they're agreeing to.[/i]

    And that would make a difference how? Users don't read the EULA as it is, and it's not like they can pick up the phone and negotiate different terms.

    Take it or leave it, click or return the computer. Those are really the only terms that matter.

    So -- that being the case -- are you going to agree or not?

    [i]Even more important is encouraging respect for the license agreement itself. Microsoft does not provide any technical barrier to running the home versions of Vista in a VM. Their restrictions are purely legal and completely arbitrary.[/i]

    That's certainly subject to change. MS has already announced that they have agreements with the VM vendors to make sure that MS can tell when they're in a VM, so refusing to run in one is a feature that they can turn on at any time.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Some people do read

      Under my interpretation of the license as written, I believe I have the right to use my paid-for copy of Windows Vista within virtual hardware. Any "clarifications" are specifically excluded by the "entire agreement" clause. I will agree to those license terms.

      And your cynicism is as consistent as it is wrong. Yes, some people do not read license agreements. But many people do. In particular, people who run businesses and responsible IT professionals read license agreements and try in good faith to abide by their terms. When those terms are in conflict with their business needs, then they have to make decisions.
      Ed Bott
      • Cynicism and decision making

        ---When those terms are in conflict with their business needs, then they have to make decisions.---

        This is where Yagotta's cynicism is truly tested. You've documented all sorts of issues with MS' licensing terms and with WGA. Do you really think there's going to be a huge backlash against MS for this? What percentage of users are going to actually do anything about it, actually try switching to a different OS? Or will it (as Yagotta keeps telling us) make no difference whatsoever towards MS' profits?

        My guess--people upset by these things will make no effort to switch. They'll just stick with XP, although they'll continue to contribute to the profits made by Vista by buying new computers with Vista (and reimaging them) and paying Vista licensing fees.
        tic swayback
        • RE:

          "Do you really think there's going to be a huge backlash against MS for this? What percentage of users are going to actually do anything about it, actually try switching to a different OS?"

          The question was not asked to me, but I will give my opinion. I think that Bott is doing the right thing in asking clarifications. And yes, many people do read licenses and MS will have to listen, even if they do not want it. This not always happens, but it happens anyway. Even if the percentage is small, the writer is doing the right thing.
          markbn
      • does not follow logic

        I cannot see how you can think your use of Vista in a VM is OK. The license is plain that it is not.

        From the Vista license:

        --------

        INSTALLATION AND USE RIGHTS. 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.? A
        hardware partition or blade is considered to be a separate device.

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

        a. Licensed Device. You may install one copy of the software on the licensed device. You may use the software on up to two processors on that device at one time. Except as provided in the Storage and Network Use (Ultimate edition) sections below, you may not use the software on any other device.

        --------

        1. You must assign the license to a *physical* (not virtual) device prior to use.

        2. You cannot install Vista on anything but the assigned device.

        3. You cannot use Vista on the assigned device in a VM.
        mosborne
        • My interpretation

          I will "assign" my fully paid for software to a physical device. It doesn't say it has to be installed on the main partition of that device. Just assigned to it.

          I will not use "the software installed on the licensed device" within a VM. I will use a new copy. It will have been assigned to a physical device. It will not be the same as the software installed on the licensed device. So it seems perfectly legal to me.

          The incomprehensible part of the agreement is the "installed on the licensed device" part. That makes no sense.
          Ed Bott
          • IANAL

            Ed, you're trying to interpret contract terms loaded with legal terms of art. Unless you're a lawyer, that's hazardous.

            Worse, you're trying to interpret those contract terms for others -- and even [b]if[/b] you're a lawyer licensed to practice in all 50 States of the USA, doing so for someone not your client is hazardous.

            The statutory liability for being wrong on your license interpretation is on the order of $50,000 per infringing copy -- and your exposure for (arguably) practicing law without a license is potentially much worse.

            I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on the WWW. From where I sit I suspect that you would be wise to follow similar practices, but at the very least I would advise you to consult with ZD's Corporate Counsel before proceeding.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Where did I say I'm providing legal advice?

            I said it's my interpretation and how I intend to act. Go back and read what I wrote. I specifically said this is what I intend to do.

            Thank you for your concern for my welfare, but I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself.

            Finally, I don't work for ZD. I'm an independent contractor. What I write is published by ZDNet, a division of CNET. If a lawyer from CNET decides that something I've written needs legal scrutiny, they can contact me.
            Ed Bott
          • License clearly disallows this

            The Vista license states:

            "Licensed Device. You may install one copy of the software on the licensed device."

            Note that it says ONE copy, not two. You cannot use a new copy. This license is quite clear on this point.

            Since you are not permitted to install Vista Home Basic/premium on a network device it must be installed on the licensed device before it can be run. The physical location on the physical device (e.g. primary partition, etc) does not matter. You are not permitted to run that copy "installed on the licensed device" in a VM. What does not make sense (legal sense, not business sense) about this?

            IANAL
            mosborne
          • Do you know how virtualization software works?

            "Note that it says ONE copy, not two."

            Then how am I supposed to install the copy in the VM? It sounds like you're not really aware of how virtualization software works. I CAN'T use the copy I installed on the physical device to power the VM. I have to install a separate copy within the virtual machine. I have to boot from a physical DVD or an ISO copy of a DVD within that VM and go through a separate setup routine. To Windows Vista, it looks like brand-new hardware. But you just made it clear I can't do that. I cannot use a new copy. I have to use the one I installed on the physical software. Except that is physically impossible.

            So how is this supposed to work?
            Ed Bott
          • Why, yes, I do. :-)

            Note: the following only considers the home versions of Vista.

            You want to run Vista in a VM. How does the Vista license permit this?

            You must use Vista Ultimate in the VM. Vista Home Basic/Premium cannot be used in a VM.

            You have two choices.

            1. Use Vista as the Host OS.
            2. Use something other than Vista as the Host OS

            For case #1

            Any Vista version is acceptable as the Host OS. However, a new license of Vista Ultimate must be purchased for the VM. This is true even if the Host OS is Vista Ultimate.

            This VM cannot be run on any physical machine other than the one used for the original install unless you use the one-time license transfer.

            For case #2

            If you happen to have an existing license for Vista Ultimate installed on the physical machine (e.g., a separate partition). It would be OK to use that copy in a virtual machine.

            You would have to re-validate Vista under the VM if it had been previously validated under the physical machine.

            I see nothing in the license that would limit switching it back and forth from VM to physical machine since it is always the same physical device. Re-validation would be required at each switch, however.

            If you don't have an existing license or don't want to hassle with the revalidation, a new Vista Ultimate license can be purchased and installed into the VM.

            You could move this to the physical machine and back without limit since the physical device does not change.

            That is how I read the license and it appears that Microsoft reads it this way as well.

            IANAL
            mosborne
          • Wow

            You are reading so much stuff into that license that just isn't there for me AT ALL. No offense meant, but I don't think we're reading the same document or interpreting it in the same language.

            Like I said, I do this stuff for a living, I have been reading and interpreting software licenses for roughly 20 years. And this is the most confusing set of terms I have ever seen.
            Ed Bott
          • Seems pretty clear to me.

            Can you be specific? What am I reading into it that is not there? Each of the examples I gave is backed up by the license itself. If you don't thinkk so, please point out where license says different.

            Being subject to random audits generally makes me read software licenses conservatively.

            You're not the only one who has been reading and intrepreting software licenses for many years. There are others out here too. :-)
            mosborne
          • You're making a second copy, Ed.

            [i]To Windows Vista, it looks like brand-new hardware. But you just made it clear I can't do that. I cannot use a new copy. I have to use the one I installed on the physical software. Except that is physically impossible.

            So how is this supposed to work?[/i]

            You're making a second copy, you need a second license. That's not even a EULA thing, it's copyright law.

            I'm sure that if you were to buy a second copy of the appropriate version of MSVista, you would have no problems running it in a VM.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
          • There are different kinds of virtualization

            In the xen hypervisor, for example, it is possible for both the host OS and guest OS to share the hardware, and it is not clear that running Vista as the host, or even as the guest, in such a situation could not be classified in the Vista license as installed on the physical device, as opposed to running in a VM. With this type of virtualization I agree there is ambiguity about whether or not the restriction in the Vista license against running Vista in a VM applies, because the wording in the license applies more to the type of virtualization that is done by Virtual PC or VMWare.

            In cases where the more standare VMWare/Virtual PC kind of virtualization is used, I think the license is abundantly clear that Vista Home/Premium are not licensed to run this way.

            Since the hypervisor kind of virtualization is still very early in development and depends on extensions only in the latest CPUs, MS probably is not too concerned about providing language in the license concerning it yet, but I am sure they have plans for this kind of virtualization - they have agreed to work with xen to make Windows compatible with xen, as well as with their own hypervisor technology: http://www.xensource.com/news/pr071706.html
            error@...
          • I said it before, Ed

            You can "assign" a copy of Vista Home Basic or Premium to whatever hardware you want.

            Technically, according to the license, you could then install said Vista Home into a VM.

            However, [i]you cannot then legally run that installation of Vista Home in the VM.[/i] It says so right in the license. "You may not use the software installed on the licensed device within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system."

            It's making no sense to you because you're trying to read it in a way that Microsoft never intended. The "clarification" was right on the money. You are not allowed to run Vista Home inside a VM, period full stop.

            The reason for this is simple. Vista Home is designed to be more of a media center. Microsoft's DRM intends to use the protection technologies built into the CPU (I believe it's called TPM?) to better secure its data. If the CPU is virtualized, however, those technologies aren't available. Please note, as coroborrating evidence of this theory, that Windows Ultimate's license, while it allows you to run Vista Ultimate in a VM, forbids you from "play(ing) or access(ing) content or use(ing) applications protected by any Microsoft digital, information or enterprise rights management technology or other Microsoft rights management services or use(ing) BitLocker."
            FamilyManFirst
          • Sorry, still not seeing that point of view

            You write: "You can 'assign' a copy of Vista Home Basic or Premium to whatever hardware you want."

            A device is defined as a "physical hardware system." The Vista license says I "may install one copy of the software on the licensed device."

            Not two. One. This applies to Ultimate as well. By your logic, I can't run any version of Vista in any virtual environment ever.

            Unless, of course, you're trying to say that Microsoft gives me the legal right to assign a home version of Vista to a physical PC and then install it in a VM but not use it? If Microsoft means to say I can't install Vista in a virtual environment, they should just say so.

            TPM is not used in any way in Vista except as one of two possible encryption options for BitLocker.

            And the Media Center features are in both Home Premium (VM not legal) and in Ultimate (VM legal). So I don't understand your point about the logic behind this clause.
            Ed Bott
          • I'll keep trying, then

            [i]The Vista license says I "may install one copy of the software on the licensed device."

            Not two. One. This applies to Ultimate as well. By your logic, I can't run any version of Vista in any virtual environment ever.[/i]

            Hmm, an interesting point. I'd love to see that one played out in court. However, I have to point out that the license does also say, "A hardware partition or blade is considered to be a separate device." By that statement, you could set up your hard drive with two partitions and have two "devices" on one computer. Since VMs use either their own partitions or their own "hard drive files" you could probably argue in court that a VM would be considered its own "device." (IANAL)

            [i]Unless, of course, you're trying to say that Microsoft gives me the legal right to assign a home version of Vista to a physical PC and then install it in a VM but not use it? If Microsoft means to say I can't install Vista in a virtual environment, they should just say so.[/i]

            This is exactly what I'm trying to say. I have to agree that MS should just say that you can't install the software to a VM, but IANAL. Maybe their legal beagles figured that it was better to say it the way they did. Someone might, for example, claim that they didn't "install" a copy of the OS on the VM, they just "copied" a running OS into a VM (there are tools that allow you to do this). Moreover, with the current wording, if you can install the software but not run it, what good is it?

            [i]And the Media Center features are in both Home Premium (VM not legal) and in Ultimate (VM legal). So I don't understand your point about the logic behind this clause.[/i]

            Ah, but the Media Center features are legally [b]prohibited from being used[/b] in Ultimate on a VM. Why the heck would that be? There's nothing about a VM that would break the Media Center features' ability to playback, record, etc. You might have trouble transferring DRM licenses to and from the Media Center inside a VM, but that's the end user's problem, not Microsoft's. The only explanation I can come up with (granted, it's my own guess, not any statement of MS's) is that there's something about real hardware that the Media Center features use to enforce their DRM. Whether that's TPM or some other component, it's something that VMs either can't emulate, don't emulate, or can emulate but said emulation can be different from the underlying hardware (maybe identical to some other computer).

            My theory is that MS decided that they didn't want Vista Home running in a VM at all because of the above but didn't want to completely ailienate the geek crowd (their target market for Ultimate) by forbidding to run Ultimate in a VM so they chose to compromise in the License by forbidding use of the Media Center features inside a VM for Ultimate.
            FamilyManFirst
    • What of SMBs?

      Then are you proposing that everyone working in IT has a law degree too? Will small and medium businesses have to retain a lawyer just so they understand the EULA?

      I submit this for your consideration. Clarity is [b]never[/b] a bad thing. (Perhaps if they write the license agreements so people can understand, people would actually read them.)

      As for the running in a virtual machine - why not? Virtualization can provide significant benefits to users of all skills. Migration to new hardware can become quite trivial. Backup is as simple as copying a file. Letting the kids use the computer doesn't put your Quicken data at risk.

      My opinion...all of these restrictions are silly and will just provide more reasons to go to OSX and Linux.
      Chad Strunk
      • They do as they're told

        [i]Then are you proposing that everyone working in IT has a law degree too? Will small and medium businesses have to retain a lawyer just so they understand the EULA?[/i]

        Of course not -- they've already made the decision to agree, never mind the details. Chances are it'll never make a difference, just like now.

        [i]I submit this for your consideration. Clarity is never a bad thing.[/i]

        Don't be silly -- we all know that obscure fine print can be very beneficial for those writing the contract. Clauses regarding an "integrated agreement" and similar terms only count if the language is totally unambiguous.

        If the wording of a contract is ambiguous, the interpretation becomes a matter of fact for a jury to decide. Since only one party had any input into the contract, their people are the only ones in a position to testify -- so the contract means what they say it does.
        Yagotta B. Kidding