On Friday, I wrote a lengthy article for the SuperSite for Windows in which I communicated Microsoft's licensing changes for Windows Vista. In tech enthusiast circles, these changes--which include limiting the number of times a user can transfer a Vista license from PC to PC--were the source of a lot of controversy. However, it seems to me that the new license, or End-User License Agreement (EULA), was really just a clarification of the Windows XP license, and my original article reflects that. But based on a weekend's worth of email, it's now clear that a large and important group of Windows users will be alienated by the new EULA.
Here's the problem. In the XP EULA, users were granted the right to "move \[XP\] to a different Workstation Computer. After the transfer, \[users had to\] completely remove \[XP\] from the former Workstation Computer." Many people read this clause and assumed they had the right to move a single retail copy of XP from PC to PC as often as they wanted. Not so. "This clause was always aimed at very specific circumstances," Microsoft General Manager Shanen Boettcher told me. "Someone has a hardware failure, but still wants to run that copy of Windows on the new machine, for example." The intention, Boettcher said, was for users to perform such a new installation only in the event of a catastrophic hardware failure. A single copy of Windows is licensed for use on a single PC.
The Vista EULA has been "clarified" to be more explicit. Now, a user can "reassign the \[Vista\] license to another device one time." Microsoft told me that the actual process of transferring Windows from PC to PC hasn't changed since XP: You might be able to electronically activate Windows on the new PC, but if you can't, you can activate Windows over the phone. "\[Now\] we let them move a license, while being clear about what the license is intended for," Boettcher said. "In the past, we haven't been super clear up front."
I've never been a big fan of the Windows EULA, but given the inherent restrictions in the document and the fact that Windows users don't technically own their copy of Windows anyway (according to the terms of the license, you're granted only limited rights to use the product), I felt the Vista license change amounted to a simple clarification. Besides, it would affect a very small group of users. Last weekend, I heard from those users and I'm starting to see a very real problem.
The computer enthusiasts who are most apt to run into problems with the Vista EULA are the people who funnel the most money into the PC industry--the ones who buy expensive gaming PCs and regularly upgrade their systems. These enthusiasts are most likely to gravitate toward the most expensive Vista version, Vista Ultimate. In short, one might argue that Microsoft's new EULA will harm these people quite a bit, especially if their reactivation attempts are thwarted because of licensing problems.
Koroush Ghazi, the owner of TweakGuides.com, argues that if even 5 percent of PC users are affected by this change, we're talking about 50 to 65 million consumers. And again, these are the people spending money on the most expensive PCs and accessories they can get their hands on. These people are enthusiastic about technology and would otherwise be championing Vista. These are the people that Microsoft should be embracing, not alienating. And with mainstream PC makers such as Dell and HP buying boutique gaming-PC companies to find new revenue streams among these increasingly important customers, it's clear that Microsoft should be reaching out to them as well.
If you'd like to read more about this topic, both my original article and the excellent response from Koroush Ghazi are available on the SuperSite for Windows.
Licensing Changes to Windows Vista
Windows Vista's Enthusiastic Licensing Restrictions