Microsoft's Licensing Madness


The controversy du jour regards a particularly abhorrent clause that Ed Bott noticed in Microsoft’s end-user license agreement for Vista . Most software EULAs are documents filled with nasty lists of things that you can’t do with the software you purchased, but the clause Microsoft snuck in unannounced is especially evil. It’s titled “Reassign to another device.”
Here’s the exact text: “The first user of the software may reassign the license to another device one time.” That means that if you purchase a copy of Vista at retail—be it the $200 Home Basic or the $400 Vista Ultimate package—you have the right to install that OS on one machine. When you retire that machine, you can install the OS on a second PC, but that’s it. Unlike the Windows XP EULA, which permits you to continue transferring the OS indefinitely (as long as you remove it from the previous machine), Vista’s EULA restricts each copy of the OS to two computers.

Naturally, the new policy will be enforced using Product Activation. Upgrade too much hardware, too many times and Microsoft will disable your legally purchased version of Windows Vista. Frighteningly, none of the Microsoft representatives I’ve spoken with can specify what determines the difference between a hardware upgrade and a new machine; all they’ll say is that it’s a complicated algorithm.

This makes Vista very, very unattractive for anyone who builds his or her own rigs. Vista will force people who frequently build new machines or do regular major upgrades—like you and me—to pay Microsoft a couple hundred bucks a year for the privilege of running Vista. I’ve had a few problems with the new OS, but I’m ready to drop WinXP. But it will be a cold day in hell before I pay multiple times for the same piece of software for the same PC. That’s highway robbery.

Why is Microsoft doing this? Because it can. There will be relatively few people affected by this license change, as the vast majority of Vista builds will end up in OEM machines purchased by people who don’t upgrade. Indeed, even if everyone who’s affected by this clause decides to boycott Vista, it won’t make a measureable impact on sales.

I’ve never been more conflicted about a product before. If the EULA remains as-is, I’ll be unable to recommend Vista to the Maximum PC elite. The hitch is DirectX 10, which only works with Vista. I just saw the first batch of games written for DirectX 10, and they make “next-gen” console titles look like bantha fodder. Every hardcore gamer will be forced to make a Hobson’s choice.

I've sent a letter saying the same thing to the higher-ups at Microsoft, but I don't really expect to hear anything good. I'd be really interested to hear what you guys think about this mess, so feel free to join the discussion in our forums.

This is a dark day for PC enthusiasts.

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