The Devil's in the detail - Taking a look at Windows Vista licensing

The Devil's in the detail - Taking a look at Windows Vista licensing

Summary: "Sell the sizzle, not the sausage" and "bury any bad news" are some of the oldest but best marketing clichés in existence and they are as applicable today as when they were fresh.  Microsoft applied both these principals yesterday when it released details of software licensing terms for Windows Vista.

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TOPICS: Windows
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"Sell the sizzle, not the sausage" and "bury any bad news" are some of the oldest but best marketing clichés in existence and they are as applicable today as when they were fresh.  Microsoft applied both these principals yesterday when it released details of software licensing terms for Windows Vista.

I have to be honest and admit that I don't read every license agreement that flashes up on myThis is a real kick in the teeth for upgrade enthusiasts and early adopters screen or comes with software.  Some licensing agreements though demand close scrutiny because they can have broad impact.  Anything new or amended agreements from Microsoft fall into the "I need to pay close attention to this" category and so as soon as the updated software license terms were available, I was eager to see what was changed and added.

The new Microsoft Software License Terms document (PDF, 98KB) is 14 pages long and contains information about Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate.  My ZDNet blogging colleague Ed Bott has already taken a look at some of the changes in language in this document compared to the Windows XP license agreement (PDF, 176KB).  One of the changes that Ed specifically looks at relates to reassigning the operating system to another device and the transfer of the license to a third party.  Basically, the upshot of the new license is that you'll only be able to reassign the license to another device once and the software can only be transferred to a third party once. 

Here is the relevant language straight out of the Software License Terms document:

15. REASSIGN TO ANOTHER DEVICE.
a. Software Other than Windows Anytime Upgrade. The first user of the software may reassign the license to another device one time. If you reassign the license, that other device becomes the “licensed device.”
b. Windows Anytime Upgrade Software. The first user of the software may reassign the license to another device one time, but only if the license terms of the software you upgraded from allows reassignment.

16. TRANSFER TO A THIRD PARTY.
a. Software Other Than Windows Anytime Upgrade. The first user of the software may make a one time transfer of the software, and this agreement, directly to a third party. The first user must uninstall the software before transferring it separately from the device. The first user may not retain any copies.
b. Windows Anytime Upgrade Software. You may transfer the software directly to a third party only with the licensed device. You may not keep any copies of the software or any earlier version.
c. Other Requirements. Before any permitted transfer, the other party must agree that this agreement applies to the transfer and use of the software. The transfer must include the proof of license.
[emphasis added]

As Ed states in his blog post:

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.

From a hardware/upgrade perspective, this change is very worrying indeed.  Some people might call this restrictive, but I'll go as far as to call it Draconian.  Unless I'm mistaken, what this means is that a single Windows Vista license will only be valid for two PCs (three tops, if you count a transfer to a third party).  After that the product key supplied with the original copy presumably becomes a dead stick and will no longer work.  I'm also assuming (I'm having to assume a lot because I'm waiting for a load of answers from Microsoft on this - watch this space for more info) that licensing will be enforced by the Windows Product Activation and Software Protection Platform mechanisms.  What defines a "device" is also ambiguous and could mean a component such as the motherboard or even the system as a whole.  The license only goes as far as to describe a "device" as "physical hardware system".

I can see the problems now ... you buy a copy of Windows Vista, install it on your existing PC and activate it.  Later on, you discover that your existing PC isn't really up to the job of running Vista, so you either buy a new PC or upgrade your existing one. When you install Vista this time, that's it – your copy of Vista is now stuck on that PC forever.  If your new PC dies or has a hardware failure, as they so often do, then not only is it time for a replacement but also time for a new Vista license too.  That sounds plain crazy and is nothing more than a trick to move money from the pocket of the user and into the Microsoft coffers. 

This is a real kick in the teeth for upgrade enthusiasts and early adopters!

There are some other interesting additions to the license too.  One of these relates to using Vista in a virtualized environment.  For Windows Vista Home Basic and Home Premium, the language contained in the license is as follows:

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

While for Windows Vista Ultimate is reads as:

USE WITH VIRTUALIZATION TECHNOLOGIES. You may use the software installed on the licensed device within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system on the licensed device. If  you do so, you may not play or access content or use applications protected by any Microsoft digital, information or enterprise rights management technology or other Microsoft rights management services or use BitLocker. We advise against playing or accessing content or using applications protected by other digital, information or enterprise rights management technology or other rights management services or using full volume disk drive encryption.
[emphasis added]

Robert McLaws on the Windows-Now blog reads this as meaning that you can't install Vista Home Basic and Home Premium into a virtualized environment, but to me the language suggests that a single Windows Vista Ultimate license allows you to install one copy on a device (a PC) and one copy into a virtualized environment. 

So, why did I accuse Microsoft of "selling the sizzle and not the sausage" and "burying any bad news"?  Because when the official Windows Vista Team blog announced that the retail license terms for Vista had been published but they chose only to highlight two changes:

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 don't know about you, but I think that some of the other changes that Microsoft made to the licensing agreement are far more noteworthy.

Topic: Windows

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62 comments
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  • Wow. What a load of crap...

    So they bury it in a 14 page license agreement so people don't notice. Good job bringing this out into the open.

    Where does this leave those of us that build our own machines, and upgrade regularly? I usually replace processor/motherboard twice a year.

    We have to buy a new vista package every other machine?
    BitTwiddler
    • You got it

      [i]Where does this leave those of us that build our own machines, and upgrade regularly? I usually replace processor/motherboard twice a year.

      We have to buy a new vista package every other machine?[/i]

      Exactly. Your contribution to my 401(K) is greatly appreciated.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • ROTFLMAO ! <NT>

        <NT>
        I'm Ye, the MS SHILL .
  • This is the key phrase

    "That sounds plain crazy and is nothing more than a trick to move money from the pocket of the user and into the Microsoft coffers."

    All large companies are exploring these tricks. They are too big and require to much new sources of revenue. It is longer about the product or customer satisfaction. It's about playing games and trying to squeeze out revenue in every area possible.
    ordaj@...
  • wow.....

    what a bunch of idiots.

    Talk about killing your golden goose.

    Hey MS! pull yer head out of your ass!
    JoeMama_z
    • Please be specific

      [i]what a bunch of idiots.[/i]

      Do you mean MS or the ones crying about it?

      [i]Talk about killing your golden goose.[/i]

      On the contrary, MS has worked long and hard to get to the point where people will fork over on demand.

      You'll notice that there's lots of complaining, but that's all. The complaints are a sure sign that they're expecting to dig down and pay up; those who don't plan to bend over have better things to do than spend their days whimpering.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • What's more..

        Is that the only people complaining are geeks like us anyway. Since the vast majority are home and other business users who don't give a crap anyway, this is a non-event and is only relevant in the ZDNet and tech blog echo chambers.
        BFD
        • Really?

          "Since the vast majority are home and other business users who don't give a crap anyway"

          Really? I have dozens of emails from people affected by WGA who care - I think that they'll care about this. Problem is, that time might not come until they are bitten.
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
          • Tell me when

            [i]I have dozens of emails from people affected by WGA who care - I think that they'll care about this. Problem is, that time might not come until they are bitten.[/i]

            Tell us when you have a few hundred thousand cases of people [i]not buying Microsoft products[/i] and I might be impressed.

            Until then, all you've done is shown that Microsoft knows what they're doing to monetize the monopoly they've spent so much acquiring.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
          • One of two effects

            This will do one of two things. It will increase piracy or get people moving back to an older OS or on the extreme side using Linux.

            For example if I have XP Retail and Vista tanks because I changed the video card more than once then I'll be forced to just load XP again. Chances are the person with an OEM install may not notice this as they buy new PCs that come with an OS. Those who upgrade new Hard Drives, video cards, and sound cards will be screwed. Per device is nuts.

            I can seriously see this boosting Linux's market share by 3-5%.
            voska
          • Getting together for a beer in a few years

            [i]I can seriously see this boosting Linux's market share by 3-5%.[/i]

            I don't, but that's one of those "let's see how it works out" things.

            Even if it does, though, I predict that it will still be a net boost to profits.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
          • forgot the other effect "PIRACY"

            If I buy Vista and it fails to run because I swapped the mobo too many times I'll just pirate the OS. I'm sure by then there will many ways to bypass any protections they might have.
            voska
          • My thoughts exactly.....

            Microsoft doesn't care about customers. Microsoft cares about money. If they can get even wealthier by screwing over a few thousand customers, what do they care? They don't of course. As long as far more people keep paying, it simply won't matter.

            >>Until then, all you've done is shown that Microsoft knows what they're doing to monetize the monopoly they've spent so much acquiring<<
            shawkins
          • By that time . . .

            Vista will be entrenched, and MS won't care what people think about the WGA . . .
            jlhenry62
        • Home and business users...

          Will care immensely as soon as they discover - the hard way - how restrictive this new licensing is. It will take a while as many are still using older versions and cannot afford to upgrade every time a new OS is on the market.

          The security issues that accompany MS software combined with licensing that says in effect you can only wipe that hard drive once before you have to pay for this os all over again, will make this an impossible situation for many (if not most) users. Not just a difficult situation, but an impossible one.

          So, with this release, MS will gain the very serious ill will of even the uninformed, non-geek home users, many of whom simply cannot afford the financial hardships this license will inevitably impose. Moreover, it will come along as a huge, unpleasant surprise.

          MS has over reached. This one ought to be illegal. But then so, I suppose, should shooting oneself in the foot. I still use WIN 2000 on my desktop and when I can't use it anymore, that will be the end of the line for MS in my little office.
          Starbuckin
          • Re: Home and business users...

            "The security issues that accompany MS software combined with licensing that says in effect you can only wipe that hard drive once before you have to pay for this os all over again, will make this an impossible situation for many (if not most) users. Not just a difficult situation, but an impossible one"

            Good point however the license agreement states that only with a hardware change this new licensing is effective. If the person is only formatting the hard drive and reinstalling this should not be a problem since hardware changes have not happened.
            johnUSAF
          • Re: Home and business users

            I have a feeling it will still affect people even if they format. Vista will not recognize the machine because there will no longer be any identifiers on the hard drive for vista to find. So from the vista standpoint, it will see a new computer. Then you have to activate it. Unless microsoft is keeping a database of all the serial numbers of everything on your machine (which I would not want anyway), then they can see it as they see fit, including a new machine even if it was just a re-install.
            Javve
          • Can only wipe hard drive one...

            I wonder how companies such as hp, dell, and the like will do regarding the computers that come with the 'Full System Recovery to Manufacturer's former status' if you can 'only do it once??' I wonder if these companies will 'inform' the consumer 'prior' to purchasing. I wonder if they will have 'a Special Arrangement' with Microsoft since the new 'Windows Vista' is what they are putting on all 'new computers'? How are they going to work around this one? I feel sympathy for so many big corporations, that training staff to the OS systems, then are 'forced' to upgrade and start all over again. They have a 'hand in their pocket' as well as a 'hand in the home user's pocket' from the time of purchase in forcing future purchases that are called 'upgrades' for this and that and 'licensing'. Let's face it we no longer are 'purchasing' software retail; we are simply 'leasing for the priviledge of using that software' we purchased at any retail outlet or that supposedly came with the computer. Reality check, licensing is leasing or renting the use of now under the guise of 'new licensing terms and conditions agreements'.
            tshoop7
      • sorry...

        Idiot's = MS although on 2nd thought i should have called them jerks.

        the thing in the article that really gets my goat is the restriction of moving the retail license only once. That really sucks. I pay already, but i also swap hardware a lot, I think it's overkill.
        JoeMama_z
      • ROTFLMAO , this just keeps on getting better . <NT>

        No Text
        I'm Ye, the MS SHILL .