Am I a Windows pirate? WGA would say yes but you decide

Am I a Windows pirate? WGA would say yes but you decide

Summary: Yesterday, when my colleague Dan Farber and I interviewed VMware CEO Diane Greene for a podcast here on ZDNet, Greene noted that the licensing practices of some of today's vendors are out of lockstep with the direction that technology is taking.  If you ask me, that point couldn't be better exemplified by the direction that Microsoft's anti-piracy Windows Genuine Advantage technology is heading when juxtaposed against the benefits of virtualization technology like that which VMware sells.

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TOPICS: VMware
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Yesterday, when my colleague Dan Farber and I interviewed VMware CEO Diane Greene for a podcast here on ZDNet, Greene noted that the licensing practices of some of today's vendors are out of lockstep with the direction that technology is taking.  If you ask me, that point couldn't be better exemplified by the direction that Microsoft's anti-piracy Windows Genuine Advantage technology is heading when juxtaposed against the benefits of virtualization technology like that which VMware sells. Consider this scenario, and tell me if I'm a pirate. Or, better put, am I a pirate that it makes sense for Microsoft to crack down on.

As I have written ad nauseum, perhaps the coolest feature of desktop virtualization software like VMware Workstation 5 is the ability to move my entire destkop environment to any computer I want and to have things run exactly as they were on the computer I took it off of.  No installation of new drivers. No painful reproduction of cookies, auto-complete caches, password files, bookmarks, registry settings or reinstallation of applications.  As long as both computers are capable of "playing" a VMware virtual machine (requires VMware Workstation or VMware's free "player" runtime), a complete system transfer takes a few clicks and a few minutes.

Why is such convenient portability so important? Consider the number of times in the last decade that you've moved to a new system. Maybe they were upgrades. Or maybe, you're system was sent out for repair and you used another one temporarily. If you were on a VM architecture like VMware and, as a matter of practice, you took a snapshot of any of the VMs you used every night before shutting down, you could be up and running instantaneously on a new system simply by copying that snapshot to the new system.  The disaster recovery benefits alone of VMware make it well worth the $189 when you think of how much personal time it takes to normally move to a new system.

So, let's say I take advantage of that capability.  Let's say for example, I'm doing all of my work in a virtual machine that's running on top of VMware with a copy of Windows that's been fully validated by WGA (and married to my machine) and something goes wrong with my machine that requires it to be sent out for repair. Naturally, I want to take advantage of one of VMware's primary benefits. So, I get a temporary system, put VMware's free player on it, copy my most recent snapshot to that system, and voila, I should be back in business, right?  

Wrong? Because of the way Microsoft's WGA works, I'm technically a pirate. A copy of Windows that's valid by virtue of its unique marriage to my broken system is now having an affair with another system and WGA is like that guy on the television show Cheaters -- it's an expert at spotting and flagging such affairs.

OK, so, I'm a pirate. I've met all the technical criteria. But am I really a pirate? Based on what I've done, does Microsoft really want to lower the boom on me by denying me certain updates (as Microsoft is going to do with WGA-snagged pirates) or force me to pay an additional $149 just for the privilege of using its operating system on another computer as Ed Bott's review of the current WGA user experience shows would be case. But forget how WGA works or what Microsoft's EULA says. Sometimes, we're so close to the trees we can't see the forest.

Am I really pirating software? Or, am I just trying to legitimately get the value out of an investment I've made? Value I deserve. Bear in mind, in Virtual PC, Microsoft makes software that does the same exact thing and that has the same exact benefits as VMware Workstation.

Topic: VMware

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  • WGA

    Starts to make you wonder why you are using a OS so bad that the inability to get updates regularily is a major problem doesn't it. You paid for a system that was supposed to work. What is all this update and patch junk about anyway? And if the system needs these things to work properly then you were cheated in the beginning right? Window Genuine Advantage -- If you can prove that you actually paid for our operating system then we will let you make the modifications necessary to make it work like we said it would when you bought it; otherwise, you are stuck with the junk you actually got.-- Nice, eh?
    danm_50@...
  • Difficult question

    It's good that you recognize (and publically say so) that on the strict legal definition, you are indeed pirating Windows. It is important for a few reasons, and the biggest is that many people do not realize that using VMs can put them in violation of the XP EULA, and that may influence their decision to possibly use a different OS. I have also stated before that I think your particular method of using VMs is a bit wasteful, but that really is not the point either.

    Are you truly pirating software? Not from my viewpoint. If you were running 5 VMs on one monster box and had a bunch of Pentium II's sitting around Remote Desktop'ing to the VMs, I would fefinitely say "yes". But in reality, you are not using your VMs for anything that a single running copy of XP could do, so by the spirit of the XP EULA (one person using one copy of XP at a time) you are within the boundaries, IMHO.

    J.Ja
    Justin James
  • Part 1: Define "piracy"

    From a copyright law perspective [1] you're fine.

    From a contract law perspective, you're bound by the EULA you agreed to. It says you're in violation.

    Next time, don't agree to conditions you don't mean to comply with.

    [1] IANALAIDNPOOTV. If you want a legal opinion, pay an authorized dealer.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Par 2: Define policy

      [i]does Microsoft really want to lower the boom on me by denying me certain updates (as Microsoft is going to do with WGA-snagged pirates) or force me to pay an additional $149 just for the privilege of using its operating system on another computer as Ed Bott's review of the current WGA user experience shows would be case. [/i]

      Silly, of course they do. $149 is, after all, money. Multiply by a few million users and it's well worth the effort even for Microsoft.

      It's not like the cattle are going to revolt or anything, after all.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Good question, but ask this one first...

    MS called you a pirate cause you created a virtual machine so you could continue to work.
    You did that using VMare, a non MS product. Your question therefore is, "Am I a Pirate?"

    Let's let Microsoft answer that by asking this question, "Will WGA allow me to create a VM if I am running Microsoft's rival to VMare or will it again call me a Pirate?"

    If Microsoft says "YES, you can do that", then I see no point in arguing the question because it would be apparent that they have a double standard and are willing to hinge the EULA only in their direction.

    Thanks for bringing this up!
    Yodaddy
    • But before you answer that, read what Microsoft has to say...

      "Microsoft Virtual PC is now free!

      Whether Microsoft virtualization technology is an important component of your existing infrastructure or you're just a Virtual PC enthusiast, you can now download Virtual PC 2004 absolutely free. Microsoft will also offer the free download of Virtual PC 2007, with support for Windows Vista, available in 2007."

      You can see what is happening here....WGA is more than spyware designed to round up the pirates...It is a vital tool that will enforce their desire to be the exclusive provider of any software on every PC.
      Yodaddy
    • Microsoft's answer to your question

      I actually asked Microsoft if it would treat Windows licensees differently if they were using VMware vs. Virtual PC and the answer was no. However, that was in the context of its new licensing policy to allow software assurance customers up to 4 VMs off of one Windows license per PC. The question did not address what happens if you take one or more of those VMs and try to move them to another PC. My assumption is that since Microsoft's policy does not differ on the basis of the hypervisor provider in one context, it probably wouldn't differ in the other. But I'm not sure.
      dberlind
      • Yeah, I shoulda figured you asked, you are a smart person

        I guess we will find out in actual practice....

        I'm left wondering that if it doesn't treat it differently, then how can we use anybody's VM ware without creating a WGA validation nightmare?

        Would MS really be so clumbsy as to give you VM software and then invalidate your Windows if you used it?
        Yodaddy
        • Clumsy has nothing to do with it

          [i]Would MS really be so clumbsy as to give you VM software and then invalidate your Windows if you used it?[/i]

          Sounds like a good business move to me.

          Sort of like, "When you've got it, flaunt it." MS certainly has the power to monetize the Dickens out of your use of VMs. The real question is, as with any monopoly, "what is the revenue-maximization point?"

          Not allowing [i]any[/i] child VMs would just mean no revenue from them. Too low a price for child VMs would also make for no revenue.

          My guess is that MS will eventually settle on something similar to the pricing for CALs.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Actually I think it's that "Advantage" thingy they been promising

            I'm predicting they will manage to do several things with WGA.

            I'm thinking "Genuine" users will be able to create a limited/highly controlled number of VM's even if only one....And that will be considered an advantage for us...In Microsoft speak at least.

            But the real advantage comes when VMare and other non MS VM apps can't be used without invalidating Windows with WGA....and that is where Microsoft scores the real advantage.

            I think we will see this "Advantage" concept evolve, no GROW like a cancer into a real beast that gives full advantage to Microsoft over many non Microsoft applications publishers.

            Then we as consumers will finally see this "Advantage" thingy they keep waving in our faces...The advantage to us will appear as "Why should I buy VMare for $149 when MS Virtual Machine is free, and besides, VMare conflicts with my EULA in Windows/Vista?"

            Goodbye VMare, it was nice knowing you...I only hope MS Virtual Machine works as well as you do cause soon that is all that will work with Windows...Please understand, I would buy you if I could, but if I do so WGA will invalidate my expensive copy of Windows/Vista.
            Yodaddy
          • The definition of "advantage"

            Interesting that you bring that up Yodaddy. You're ears must have been burning as I was preparing my next blog post:

            [b]The disingenuity of Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage program[/b]
            http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=3469

            db
            dberlind
          • I'm looking forward to that next post.

            My ears are still burning over being called a thief....I swear I didn't evesdrop on you. LOL!

            I truely suspect that WGA is intended to do more than stop piracy....No, I don't believe it is some conspiracy-like means to spy on the people.

            But I do see it as a central/essential tool needed to elbow out the competition with the methods described above.

            I guess my real complaint is that we consumers/users are the ones feeling the results of Microsoft's battle with the competition....Suddenly, a lot of us have become innocent victims in a war we as consumers/users should never even notice....And we wouldn't notice if only Microsoft can stop the false positivies....

            They need to loosen up and allow honest folks a little leeway....So what if the EULA says you can't modify/repair your computer?...Allow us that or become as disposable as the EULA is making our PC's.

            No other appliance in my home cannot be repaired or modified. Why should my computer be different? It is afterall, only another appliance.
            Yodaddy
  • Not according to Microsoft!

    [i]MICROSOFT WINDOWS XP HOME EDITION (RETAIL) END-USER LICENSE AGREEMENT FOR MICROSOFT SOFTWARE

    ...

    [b]1.1 Installation and use. You may install, use, access, display and run one copy of the Software on a single computer, such as a workstation, terminal or other device ("Workstation Computer"). The Software may not be used by more than one processor at any one time on any single Workstation Computer.[/b][/i]

    If you were truly moving your OS from one VM host to another, you would still only be using that single copy at once. If you were to use that VM'd version on two computers AT THE SAME TIME, then indeed you would be in conflict with the terms of the EULA, however (and IANAL) I strongly believe that MS wouldn't have a leg to stand on if they tried to accuse you of piracy through multiple-copy usage.
    Scrat
    • Why stop at accusation ?

      They possibly wouldnt have one to stand on if it was going through an actual Court of Law. My understanding is that "If found to be a pirated copy the security upgrades/patches fail to install." What about the guy that bought the first copy and his keys were copied from the side of his computer? He bought his copy legitamately and gets thrown in with the same bunch that stole his copy.
      The price is just cheap enough, at $149, that the hassle involved with trying to get it resolved any other way isnt justifiable. Microsoft wins again. This time they do it without legal battle and the payee must have been in the wrong (guilty) since they gave up so easily and forked over the cash. Is it possible that since they arent a collective voice their's wont be heard ? Not unlike the +60 million Win9X/ME users that didnt get final updates when Microsft dropped support. Even with the news of a critial flaw they refused to release a patch because there was only a couple weeks of support left for the aging OS's. Why update something that wasnt going to exist next week? Why give a prisoner a last meal?
      aaron@...
    • Processors ...

      The Software may not be used by more than one processor at any one time on any single Workstation Computer.

      Does that mean if you have a dual processor box, running ONE copy of Windows, and an application makes use of both processors that you are in violation of your license?

      How long before they charge per core?
      Original Eggman
  • What they should do...

    No, you're not a pirate in my books. He're my opinion as to what they should do:

    1) Treat the keys as they currently do for betas or OneCare for that matter. Limit the number of devices to 5 or so, that the key can be used on. Will that stop the guy who puts it on 5 machines, no. Will it stop the casual sharer? No. Will it stop the proliferation of pirated keys? Yes.

    2) Remember that corporate/volume license keys are the biggest piracy issue out there. The vast majority of the keys that are pilfered are those. Right now, there is no product activation for volume licensing. Get the key in, and then you're done.

    I am a volume license user for my company, and it needs to be easy for me to license my software for 100 machines. But again, if WGA were working correctly, I should call home once to activate and then be done with it. Or activate on a site level, get a site activation key, and then when 50,000 hits to that key gets WGA'd, let the corporate owner know that's something is fishy.

    Let the corporate license owner figure out what to do with it. Provide them with a new key and be done - just like a stolen credit card.

    3) Don't charge the home user $300-500 for Vista. Price your software at $100 or so, get the marketshare that you want, and then you eliminate one of the reasons why people pirate in the first place.

    4) Corporate owners should pay $300-500, but then follow through on your Software Advantage - make sure I get a free upgrade in the process. Keeps your software current on my systems, and keeps me happy that I don't have to pony up 500 per user every year.
    sjohnson@...
  • Here is a quote directly from Microsoft's WGA support forum

    One of their "helpful" experts there had this to offer an unhappy Microsoft user. Please make sure to read the last line in his "helpful" reply:

    "I am repsonding as a Microsoft stockholder, an owner of the company.

    I agree that you should not have to put up with anyone putting anything on your computer that shouldn't be there. I too want that kind of *** off of your PC!

    To be safe, you'll want to offload any irreplaceable files before you do this. To remove this software from Microsoft that should not have been installed on your computer, go to www.bootdisk.com, make a bootdisk with the fdisk utility on it, start your computer from this diskette, and run fdisk to remove all Microsoft Windows-associated partitions from your hard disk drive.

    Now we are both pleased. You see, Microsoft software that should never have been installed on your computer is now gone. You got rid of that pesky WGA stuff, making you happy, and you got rid of a pirated copy of Windows XP, making me happy."
    Yodaddy
    • Good One!!

      This is sheer creativity...all the support one could ever want from MS.
      shellin
  • Master Microsoft

    Microsoft has made themselves Police, Detective, Prosecution Attorney, Judge, Jury, and apparently Executioner and they have the EULA and now WGA to give them the power to do so.

    It really seems that recently MS has upped their efforts to close loops and gaps in their little software world. Now with on-line applications, the noose gets tighter around the necks of those who have been using their software for many years...legally.

    Given MSs track record for getting things right, did you really expect the WGA to be any different?

    MS it seems is almost like the drug dealers on the street. They 'looked the other way' for years regarding copying and use of their software and now that most folks are using it, (legally or illegally) start regulating the supply. I sometimes wonder if the proliferation of MS OS and apps would be nearly as prevalent today if they had enforced their EULA years ago. I personally believe that the landscape of computing and the dominance of MS would be very different from what it is today.

    It is human nature to take the path of least resistance. MS should remember this as they add resistance to their business model processes. And folks should also recognize the slaughter they are being led to.

    Are you a pirate? To the "Letter of the Law" or in this case the EULA, yes. To the "spirit of the Law" / EULA, I say no.
    bdering
  • Are you a pirate?

    In my book, you are not as I am in a similar position regarding MS's latest BS.

    I have a legitimate copy of XP and they (MS) claim it's a pirated copy according to WGA. Has it been installed on other machines? Not to my knowledge. Has it been installed more than once? you bet your sweet bippy it has. I don't know how many times I have re-installed it because of problems (crashes, etc.). I can remember 3 hard drive failures and at least another 3 times when I couldn't solve a problem (glitch) so I just did a re-install. I have never been able to do a "repair Windows" as they like to call it. Am I PEEVED at MS? How can you tell? Have they lost a faithful customer? You can again bet on your "sweet bippy" they have.

    I have just finished installing 'Linux' and when I get it working (networking is the hangup) I shall delete MS from my 'drives' and cut up the CD and mail it to them with apropiate remarks. The problem with this is the guy that should be reading the comments will never see them, but at least I'll feel better.

    Now, back to Linux.
    nmaclennan