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.