Microsoft may be capitulating to complaints from other software firms and European governments, but it’s getting pretty rough with its customers. Perhaps too rough.
Earlier this month it was learned that the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program in Vista would actually lock computers that failed a WGA authentication check.
Now comes word that Microsoft
has changed the licensing terms for the retail version of Vista. Customers will only be able to reinstall Vista on a new machine once. After that, they will have to buy a new copy of Vista.
With Windows XP, Microsoft introduced a validation tool that checks with a Microsoft server to make sure the copy of XP hasn’t been installed on other computers. However, there was no real enforcement against people who purchased a new computer to retire an old machine and used the same copy of XP.
This is frequently done with “white box” computers, unbranded computers that are built with the same parts that are usually found in computers that carry a fancy brand name. In the five years since Windows XP’s release, a person could have gone through three or four computers but the same copy of XP.
But that’s not going to happen any more, although Microsoft expects minimal impact. “For most customers, this is a rare occurrence. We’re just being specific about the intent of the license here and what the copy of Windows is licensed for,” said Shanen Boettcher, general manager with Microsoft’s Vista unit.
Microsoft is trying to be much more clear in the licensing terms than it has in the past, said Boettcher. “If you look at licensing terms for Vista, you will find them much easier to read and much more specific,” he said.
The primary group that will be affected by this change in licensing is people who build their own PCs and update it incrementally. Some hobbyists like to upgrade their own PCs, replacing the CPU, memory or video card somewhere along the line.
With enough changes to a computer, eventually it is a whole new system, which is something of a gray area for WGA. The algorithm in Vista is “more liberal” in terms of the number of changes allowed before it assumes a new machine there compared to XP, said Boettcher.
Changing the motherboard and hard drive would be considered a major change, while memory or video upgrades won’t be considered a major change.
This new licensing also applies to virtualized computers or Intel-based Macintoshes that use dual boot to run Windows and Mac OS X.
“We’ve got some licensing terms specific to virtualization. The basic rule of thumb if there is an install of the OS, whether it’s on the bare metal or virtual machine, is an install of the OS,” said Boettcher.
Charles King, principle analyst with Pund-IT Research, respects Microsoft’s desire to protect its intellectual property, but thinks the company is wading into dangerous territory with such strict measures.
“I’m not sure if tightening the screws on legal owners of Vista is the wisest way for them to go about it,” he said. “It could backfire with people who would willingly upgrade to Vista. If they change the ground rules too much that might dampen the enthusiasm for the new operating system,” he said.