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Microsoft Vista EULA spits in the eye of self-builders worldwide

by Bob Crabtree on 24 October 2006, 01:54

Tags: Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)

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More restrictions, bigger prices


Is Microsoft in danger of alienating the entire worldwide community of PC self-builders by new conditions it's imposing for the use of retail versions of Windows Vista?

We think it is - unless it backtracks before launch time in the new year.

The first of those new conditions prevents the user of any Vista retail version from carrying the OS through two major PC upgrades. You will be able to migrate Vista once to a new PC but not from that PC to another.

The next nasty newcomer forbids the user from running the same copy of the OS on more than one partition or hard disk drive, whether or not it's the first machine on which Vista was installed. So you'll have to buy a copy for each boot partition or boot drive.

We assume that Microsoft will enforce these rules by preventing you from activating the operating system, causing it to stop working properly 30 days after installation.

Those new limitations apply to all Vista retail versions, Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate. However, users of the two Home versions will also find another new gotcha reserved just for them.

They won't be able to use their operating systems on virtual hardware, such as Parallels Workstation or  VMware Workstation, even if that's running on top of the original Vista installation.

The only way to use virtualisation will be buy Vista Ultimate. And that looks like it will cost well over £300 - about 70 per cent more than the Home Premium edition. 

Yes, Microsoft could say that it's perfectly at liberty to choose what features to include or not include in different versions of Vista, and we'd have a job arguing.

But, frankly, this sort of hamstringing of Vista Home versions strikes us as mean and miserable-minded (or may be, just plain greedy), the more so when even Home Basic looks likely to sell for over £150 and you realise that all the virtualisation hard work is being done not by Microsoft but by the companies who produce the virtualisation software.

None of these restrictions applies to XP. You can use XP on a virtual PC running in the same copy of XP. In our experience, you can also migrate XP to one machine after another and set one copy to run on multiple partitions or drives in the same PC.

The XP migration process is far from ideal because the operating system is itself too restrictive by far. But it can be done over and over again.

With XP, the need for activation is an annoyance but turned into something far worse by the fact that you can never predict which changes to a PC's hardware might force you to have to re-activate.

And, just like an unexpected reactivation, each migration of XP can involve a lot of time wasted having to authorise the new installation over the phone because, all too often, you've been locked out of the operating system and can't use over-the-net authorisation.

XP presents a phone-activation screen and you make a local-rate phone call that is routed to a Microsoft support-centre in the Indian sub-continent. The idea is that you're able to reactivate XP by keying into your phone a huge group of numbers that XP displays for you.

However, we've often found that those numbers aren't accepted by the automatic system so you end up needing to talk to staff whose first language isn't English - something for which the staff can't be criticised but Microsoft can.

You tell the support person what numbers you see on screen and, in turn, are told a whole bunch of additional numbers that you have to key into the PC.

If you're lucky, that will do the trick. If not, you have to start the phone-activation process again - without having any way to speak to a support person until you've again keyed into the phone a mass of numbers that XP shows you and they've again failed to be accepted by the automatic system at the other end.

Vista may not put you through quite the same re-activation treadmill as XP but even if it doesn't - and lets you reactivate over the net in circumstances where XP wouldn't - its new restrictions make XP look positively virtuous (though still irritating).

Not convinced? Well, just think of how Vista's usage rights could affect you personally.

Take one all-too-possible scenario. You buy Vista, put it on an existing PC and then - without thinking - authorise that copy over the internet as a result of Vista's prompt during the installation.

What you've done is lock Vista to that PC even before you had any hands-on time during which to discover, perhaps, that you actually need a more highly-spec'd PC to get the best out of the operating system.

Having paid out £300-plus, you might not be able to afford to buy what's really needed and so end up with cheaper components that you think are just about good enough to get you by until finances improve.

Half a year flies by. You've got enough saved up to splash out and realise that, what with component prices having fallen, you can now just about afford a lighting-fast CPU, an all-singing-dancing motherboard, a giant SATA-2 hard disk, decent RAM and a nippy graphics card that properly supports DirectX 10.

When the hardware build is compete, you do the sensible and decent things. Having backed up the previous Vista machine just in case, you wipe its system disk and restore XP.

Then you install Vista on your new pride and joy and whenever to decided to get the activation over with, disscover that, actually, you can't - you're stuffed unless you buy a new copy, assuming you even have £300 or so going spare.

Of course, the need to migrate to Vista a second time might occur a lot later - in which case you're still stuffed - or might happen much sooner as a result of major hardware failure.

Say that there's a lighting strike or the PC falls off a desk or you have a leaky roof (or cat). That's traumatic enough - even if your insurance company is helpful - but the way that PC hardware changes from day to day, could leave you unable to buy exact replacements for the motherboard, hard disk or graphics card - or all three.

We don't know how Microsoft will respond to such a plight and really don't fancy having to find out for ourselves the hard way but, we suspect - if its sticks with the new tough line - that, once again, you'd be stuffed.

Another situation where you could find yourself unreasonably having to buy a second copy of Vista is if you're into complex video editing or music making or any task that requires all the grunt that a system has available.

In the past - with Windows 98, NT, 2K and XP, too - you'd often set up the PC so that it booted from two different partitions or from different hard disks mounted in removable caddies. One partition or disk was optimised for the heavy-duty stuff, the other for more general use.

It's a perfect (and relatively straightforward) solution for those who can't afford two separate PCs or, perhaps, just don't have space.

Well, forget about having those sorts of helpful configurations under Vista unless, that is, you're willing to pay Microsoft for another copy of the operating system.

And, remember, you are going to have to do that despite the fact that it's to be run on a PC that already has a paid-for version of Vista installed.

Looking to twin-core to get you out of that hole? Don't.

There's no point kidding yourself that twin-core CPUs make these dual-booting configurations unnecessary. The best-performing apps can monopolise both cores - and people who edit video, make serious music or punt around massive graphics files will want them both fully engaged to give the speediest results.

But will Microsoft rethink its imposition of these new conditions with Vista?

It's unlikely unless it sees that a U-turn is in its own best interests - and we can come up with two reasons why it might.

The first is fear of EU reprisals. We DIY-ers might be unimportant in terms of sales volumes - the vast majority of copies of Vista will be sold ready installed on new PCs - but we can be a noisy lot. If we turn up the volume, we might catch the ear of the EU and get it to look into the situation.

If that happens, and the EU is once again unamused by Microsoft's antics, yet another severe kicking could follow those that have already resulted in it paying astonishingly large fines totalling many hundreds of millions of Euros (fines that may explain Vista's exorbitant pricing!).

The second reason - and it's possible whether or not the EU takes an interest - is that leaving these restrictions in place opens the door just a little further to Apple. Embittered DIY system builders might just consider moving over to Mac PCs and away from Windows machines.

Fat chance? Well, the lights-and-case-window modding fraternity won't be that interested since there is far less scope for modding with Macs.

But that's in part because Macs are so much better designed than any Windows PC you've ever seen. As a result, they don't need as much work as a Windows PC and that could endear them to folk whose DIY activities are aimed at achieving a certain level of usability and performance, not outwardly flashy effects.

It's worth knowing, too, that Apple let's you buy a five-user home license for its OS X operating system for £139 - just £50 more than the £89 ticket of the standard single-user Mac OS X license. 

And even the five-user version of OS X makes the prices of all the Vista retail versions look very sick.

Amazon UK is now taking advance orders for Vista, quoting £154.99 for Home Basic; £189.99 for Home Premium; and a quite staggering £325 for Vista Ultimate.

Actually, those prices alone may be enough to prevent DIY system builders paying out for Vista.

Some may move over to Apple, but many, we reckon, will do nothing and just stick with XP for a good while.

A significant minority, though, feeling ever more certain that Microsoft exists only to rip them off, might decide that, hey, it is okay to turn the tables and install bent copies of Vista that they know are available for download.

And not one of these three scenarios can be of the slightest benefit to Microsoft or anyone in it, whatever their motives or reasoning.

Okay, we've rambled on for long enough - it's your turn to have a say. Comment in this thread in the HEXUS Right2Reply forum.

Before doing that, though, you may care to check out page two, where we've extracted the key sections of the end-user license agreements (EULA) for Vista Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate and for XP (Home and Pro). If you've got the stamina, the originals can be downloaded in PDF format here and are also available in full on pages three, four and five....

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External.links

Parallels - Parallels Workstation home page
VMware - VMware Workstation home page
Amazon UK - advance orders for Vista
Apple -  Apple Store UK

More opinion
Windows ITPro - Licensing Changes to Windows Vista
Windows ITPro - Windows Vista's Enthusiastic Licensing Restrictions