Last week, Microsoft announced a sweeping series of changes to Windows Vista, the next-generation Windows version the company plans to complete later this month. Some of the changes are functional and are designed to answer criticisms from antitrust regulators and competitors from around the world. Others, however, are changes to the Windows End User License Agreement (EULA). Microsoft says these EULA changes are simply a clarification of the Windows XP EULA. But various analysts, pundits, and enthusiasts claim Microsoft is tightening its already draconian stranglehold on users. Let's take a look. Functional Changes To address antitrust concerns in the European Union (EU) and South Korea, Microsoft last Friday announced that it would ship Vista in those markets concurrently with the rest of the world, ending fears that it will use the possibility of antitrust action to delay Vista further. However, Microsoft is making changes to the way Vista works, both to address antitrust concerns and to appease competitors such as Adobe Systems, Google, McAfee, and Symantec, all of whom have complained publicly about various Vista features in recent months.

First, to address Adobe's concerns about the PDF-like (XML Paper Specification (XPS) document format, Microsoft will open up XPS as an international standard and will provide the technology to a standards body. XPS will still be included in Vista (but not in Microsoft Office 2007; users of that suite will need to download a free update to access Save As XPS and Save As PDF features).

Second, to address Google's concerns about Windows Live Search being the default search provider in the Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 7 Web browser, Microsoft will present upgrading users with a screen that displays their previous default search provider. They can choose to accept that choice or pick a new provider from a long list of choices that includes both major search services (e.g., Google and Yahoo!) and lesser-known options. Users can skip the screen, but it will reappear each time IE is launched until users verify which search provider they want to use.

Third, to address security company concerns, Microsoft is making three changes to Vista. It will provide APIs so that these companies can interact with the Patch Guard feature in x64 versions of Windows, which prevents access to the 64-bit Windows kernel. It will provide a second set of APIs so that these companies can bypass Windows Security Center, but only when they offer a competing dashboard that duplicates all of the notification features from Security Center. And finally, Microsoft will advertise third-party security products in the Windows Welcome Center that appears when users first boot into Windows. This will give these companies equal access to customers that Microsoft provides for its own products and services. EULA Changes More controversially, Microsoft has also made major changes to the Vista EULA. Microsoft presents these changes as a clarification, but various online pundits, analysts, and enthusiasts claim the changes will harm individuals and small business users because they further restrict user rights with regards to transferring Windows from one PC to another. In the EULA, Microsoft is also supplying its usage rights for virtual machines (VMs) for the first time.

According to the XP EULA, users who purchase a retail copy of the OS are allowed to "move \[XP\] to a different Workstation Computer. After the transfer, you must completely remove \[XP\] from the former Workstation Computer." People have read this to mean they can do so as frequently as they want, and many enthusiasts, who upgrade major PC components regularly, have pointed to this part of the EULA to justify using the same copy of XP repeatedly.

Microsoft says that the EULA clause mentioned above applies only to special circumstances, such as a hardware failure. So with Vista, they've clarified the EULA to state that a user might "reassign the \[Vista\] license to another device one time." This, many believe, is a huge new restriction.

Regarding VMs, Microsoft is addressing the installation of Windows in a VM with the Vista EULA for the first time. According to the EULA, any Vista product edition can act as a host OS for guest VMs. But only the "premium" Vista versions--Home Premium, Enterprise, and Ultimate--can be installed as a guest OS inside a VM. Microsoft says this isn't a limitation because the only customers really using VMs are businesses and enthusiasts, and they'll both be well served by this decision. More important, perhaps, a VM qualifies as a "device," so if you install Vista to a VM, you're using up one Vista license. You can't install any versions of Vista--except for Enterprise--more than once. With Vista Enterprise, you can install up to four VM versions of the OS under the host OS.