Windows licensing still a confusing mess and alienates enthusiasts

Windows licensing still a confusing mess and alienates enthusiasts

Summary: Microsoft has made a real mess of explaining their Windows Vista licensing agreement terms. If professionals who are familiar with navigating their way around press releases and complex EULA agreements find the wording complex and ambiguous, what chance does a regular user have of coming up with the right answer?

TOPICS: Windows

Microsoft has made a real mess of explaining their Windows Vista licensing agreement terms.  If professionals who are familiar with navigating their way around press releases and complex EULA agreements find the wording complex and ambiguous, what chance does a regular user have of coming up with the right answer?

Thurrott has used the same trick with regards to the Vista license that I've seen Microsoft use when quizzed over WGA validation failures - play down the numbersI'm still trying to get answers to some questions from Microsoft regarding the new Windows Vista retail license agreement that surfaced on the web last week, but it appears that Paul Thurrott has had a little bit more luck and posted some new information on his SuperSite for Windows.  However, I think that Paul has seriously missed the point when it comes to certain aspects of the Vista license agreement.

He begins the article by saying that "virtually everything you've read online about the changes to Windows Vista's end-user license agreement (EULA) is wrong" and then goes on to back this statement up with a series of points.  Here's a quote from the article:

Microsoft is further limiting your rights to transfer Windows to new PCs? Wrong. Microsoft is limiting your ability to upgrade your PC? Wrong. Microsoft is limiting the Vista versions you can install in virtual machines? Well, that one is partially correct.

The problem here is that Thurrott has used the same trick with regards to the Vista license that I've seen Microsoft use when quizzed over WGA validation failures - play down the numbers.  Allow me to explain what I mean.

When quizzed over WGA, Microsoft are happy to supply a whole raft of numbers - how many activations, the success/failure validation ratio, the percentage of failures due to leaked volume licensing keys ... the list is long.  But to direct questions such as how many users with a legal license have been flagged as running a non-genuine copy of Windows, Microsoft then resorts to fluffy terms such as "a handful of users".  Handful seems small and insignificant.  Nothing to worry about.

On reading Thurrott's article on Vista licensing I see the same kind of tactic being used.  For example, here's what he has to say about the overall effect of the Vista retail license:

Every version of Windows is accompanied by a EULA. This document is a contract that specifies your rights with regards to the copy of Windows you just obtained. The thing is, most people--over 90 percent--get Windows with a new PC, according to Microsoft. And their rights are substantially different from the rights of a customer who purchased Windows at retail.

So, since the Vista retail license only affects 10% of users, we shouldn't worry about it.  Minimizing the problem in an attempt to make it go away.

What about this bit about transferring a copy of Windows from one PC to another:

What's more amazing is that the number of people who actually try to do this is incredibly small. Since you can't transfer a copy of Windows that comes with a new PC anyway, less than 10 percent of all Windows licenses are transferable at all. And of those, only a tiny percentage of users have ever tried to even transfer a Windows license once.

Well, that’s alright then!  Because this type of license only affects 10% of all users, and because only a smaller, unspecified percentage ever actually transfer a copy to a new computer anyway, we’ll take away their right to do so.  Forget that these are users who have chosen to run Windows on their system over all the other operating systems available and didn't just get Windows bundled with the PC.  Way to go to annoy the influencers!

Again, the same thing when it comes to upgrading Windows-based PC:

Fewer than 5 percent of PC users ever open a PC case let alone perform major hardware surgery.

I think that a license agreement needs to be written in language that's as plain and clear as possible.  After all, the majority of users faced with such agreements don't have the benefit of a huge law firm on retainer to help explain it to them.  I also dislike agreements that rely on policies that aren't included as part of the agreement.  If you are a PC enthusiast who regularly upgrades your PC, you fall into a gray area in terms of the license agreement

"This is a fairly rare thing," Boettcher [Shanen Boettcher,Microsoft general manager] said. "Edge cases can be accommodated through customer support, but it's a relatively small group: People who are building their own PCs; hard core enthusiasts." Long story short, you'll have to talk to a human being and explain what happened. Just as you have had to do with XP.

Again, this worries me because the small number of PC users who probably spent the most money on hardware and software are having their rights eroded away in the license agreement and are instead having to rely on undocumented internal guidelines and policy.  I know that this is only going to affect a small number of users, but why not cater for them? It might push that 14 page license document out a page or so, but who cares about that?

I'm also none the wiser as to the stance that Microsoft has taken regarding running some versions of Vista within a virtual environment. 

"You cannot install Windows Vista Home Basic or Home Premium in a virtual machine, at least from a legal standpoint."

Why?  What's the point of that?  Why add such a strange restriction?  The reason that Thurrott offers literally knocked me sideways:

And though pundits might like to complain about this apparently arbitrary decision, the reality is that very, very few people can ever come up with a legitimate reason to run, say, Vista Home Basic in a VM. And those that want to, can, if they don't mind violating the Vista EULA and not receiving support.

I can think of a number of very good and perfectly legitimate reasons for running Vista Home from within a virtual environment - ranging from testing software apps to doing security research.  I can't think of a single good reason why Microsoft would make this change to the license agreement.  The argument that "very, very few people can ever come up with a legitimate reason to run" these operating systems inside a virtual machine doesn't hold water.

Overall, I'm still concerned by the changes made to the Vista licensing agreement.  If the number of users that are moving the operating system from one system to another PC are small, why does Microsoft find it necessary to remove these rights from a small number of enthusiasts.  Alarm bells should be ringing and people should be worried.  But then there’s so few of them, it really doesn’t matter that much …

Does it matter to you?

UPDATEEd Bott has posted a really in-depth look at the Vista license agreement.  He takes a broader look than I do here (I've tried to limit my coverage to how it affects those who upgrade and tweak their system a lot and those that work within virtual machines.  I encourage you to read his thoughtful post.

Topic: Windows

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  • In the discussions...

    One must separate the OEM versions from the FULL-Purchase versions.

    We'll never get the straight scoop until people start doing that.

    It's those that purchase FULL versions that are up in arms with the "One Upgrade/Machine" rule.

    With OEM copies this is expected. Not for full versions.

    With the full version, I'm buying the right to use this software on ONE computer at a time. Microsoft should not have the right to prevent me from transferring a FULL copy (not OEM) to another computer as long as I remove it from the old computer.

    Perid. It's always been like that. If that changes, people have an absolute right to raise hell because Microsoft is basically taking our money for full versions, and not allowing us the full use of that license.
    • Upgrade

      I have a Dell that was high-end 18 months agao when I bought it.
      Have upgraded:
      ramalk about killing the after ma

      Does this mean that after my first upgrade, I would have to relicense Vista?

      If so, the after market business!
    • antitrust

      I have to wonder why anyone still thinks that it is not right for MS to be put through anti-trust suits, when, as you pointed out, they are turning their dominance against people, by making them able to get less use out of the product without paying for an entire new copy...
  • confusion

    hurrah for the 14 page document which pretty much no one reads anyways... because it's so confusing...

    I went through several sections, and decided not to bother. It is so much easier to just go with the GPL and linux......

    So many restrictions with so many exceptions, clauses and cases... I'll be using my current XP or Kubuntu instead. (I use both as is)

    The only way I'll ever get Vista is if I buy a pre-built computer with it on it... and that won't be for a long time.
  • Message has been deleted.

  • I guess . . .

    Best Buy will need to re-think their whole "Geek Squad" thing . . .
  • I think it's great!

    I think it's a very good thing for MS to abuse the "hard core enthusiasts". When they've finally had enough these "influencers" are very welcome in the Linux/FOSS community. They would be very helpful when it comes to enlightening others who may not be aware of the better Linux alternatives. Freedom is there for you anytime you want it.

    No, really Microsoft, stick with your Vista EULA, it's a good one...
    Tim Patterson
  • Don't miss the new DRM restrictions as well

    Courtesy of the good folks over at Macintouch comes this bit of info from the Vista EULAs:
    Moreover, the licenses for Vista Business and Vista Ultimate allow use in a virtual machine but state that, if you do so, you're not allowed to use any content protected by DRM. It states:

    "You may use the software installed on the licensed device within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system. 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."
    tic swayback
    • Do you think that . . .

      MS is going for the Hard sell?

      "Boy, it just makes me want to RUSH out and buy a copy of Vista, today!", JL said, with much sarcasm . . .
  • Hardware Failure

    So what happens when a hard drive takes a nose dive? Or if you GHOST your drive, buy a bigger one and then go to reinstall it? I have done that 3 times with my current copy of XP SP2. I am now at 100GB and will probably go to 200 by X-Mas. Am I limited to only 2installations of Vista??
    • Even with an OEM copy

      you are allowed to change drives, especially if they fail. That is not changing machines.

      Really, this is just stretching it to make headlines or spread FUD about Vista. On the same machine, you can reinstall weekly if you want.

      It is in transferring it to a different machine, or a different owner, they are talking about.
      • Just don't upgrade to a new Processor....

        That's a new machine according to MS.
  • Virtualization is a legit reason.

    Virtualization is turning things upside down. Even with major hardware failure, it's possible to move the to another machine and start working as if nothing had happened. It's even better when migrating to new hardware!

    I'm seriously thinking about running a small Linux installation on the hardware just so I can run VMWare. I'm sure one of those VMs will be a Windows XP or Vista.
    Chad Strunk
  • Sounding familiar

    Ironic, isn't it? How many posters have said the same things about Linux users? "95 percent of users can't be wrong," "they're only geeks."

    Now we see Microsoft, aided by sycophants like Thurrot, turning the market share argument against Windows users it wants to squeeze!


    I think the savvy Windows users, that is, as Adrian Points out, those users who have decided to [u]buy Windows[/u] to run on their fancy boxes - as opposed to the 95 percent of the Windows market that default to the OS because it's what Dell sells - are finding that, utlimately, we're all one of "only a very, very few" in some respect or another.

    Perhaps now when they encounter a poster saying, "linux users are only 1 percent of the market so how smart can they be?" they will recognize the same can be said of them?

    none none
    • Well I have heard that there are about

      400 million pc's with xp on them-which if only 5 to 10% moves to new(home built) pc's-that is more than just a few.
      Michael L Hereid Sr
  • Vista a confusing mess that alienates everyone

    Another day, another FUBAR O/S from MICROSUCKS.
  • Vista - I'm Out of Here!

    I hold a considerable block of Microsoft stock. When I bought it looked like a good bet to own a chunk of the most dominate software firm on the planet.

    After their launch of God knows how many versions of an operating system that will be a bitch to support and I can not see why anyone desperately needs, I'm dumping the whole damned block.

    Personally, I will modify any of our boxes when it is required. I will not play "Mother May I" with anyone.

    That is All!