Ah Microsoft – Your Licensing Is Evil!

Monday, April 28, 2014 at 9:55 pm

amylI have spent the past couple of weeks looking into the new Microsoft licensing policies, and while I don’t understand everything that is going on, I have a better handle on it. A good part of what I’ve learned is off the record, but I have this on the record from Simon Hughes, program manager in Microsoft Business Licensing: “We do not see reimaging licensing policy as a source of revenue.”

Now what that means depends in part on your attitude toward Microsoft. If you simply don’t believe Microsoft you may come to one conclusion. For my part, after more than 20 years in this field, I have yet to have Microsoft tell me a direct untruth on the record. They are dedicated to teaching their products, from Dot Net, to ASP.  Like all companies, it will refuse to answer certain questions, or answer in a misleading way; but I have never had any suspicion that any Microsoft official, from Bill Gates down, has ever looked me in the eye and lied to me.

Thus, I believe what it said. The re-licensing policies are not a revenue grab, and Microsoft isn’t trying to soak people by making them pay twice for an operating system license.

So what is it trying to do?

The issue came up because there are new reimaging technologies available, particularly to large enterprise customers, and these customers asked to have things clarified. In these days of lawsuits, disgruntled employees who claim to be (and may be) whistle blowers, racketeering suits, class-action suits, triple damages, and the rest of the baggage that comes along with a litigious society, large companies simply cannot stand the notion of legal ambiguities. They want to know that what they are doing is legal and sanctioned and within licensing policy. Microsoft issued a policy statement to that effect.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the matter. The statement covered a particular group of licensees who happen to be really big companies. Now, the next size down said “Wait a minute! Does that mean that what we are doing is illegal?” Microsoft thought about that, and came out with another policy statement applying to all enterprise customers.

And that leaves the rest of us in limbo, because strictly speaking what many of us do is not precisely legal. An example helps.

Suppose you are the outside MIS for a small outfit. It wants 15 PCs. You go buy them from Compaq or Gateway or Dell. Each has Windows installed. The company also buys 15 copies of, say, Office 2000 at a discount. Now, you configure one machine the way you want it and install Office 2000. When everything is the way you and your client want it, you use Ghost or some other reimaging program to clone that machine 14 times. Now, all 15 machines have identical operating systems and identical copies of Office. Are you legal? I put this to the Microsoft executives.

Strictly speaking, no, unless you have certain group licenses from Microsoft, and you probably don’t.

Does Microsoft care? Will it pursue you for this? Clearly not. The spirit of the licensing agreements is carried out: each copy of both OS and applications in use has been paid for.

That is a clear case. I can come up with less clear scenarios, and did, but so can Microsoft. Suppose you are not merely cloning the new system but in doing so are upgrading older ones? Suppose you don’t have as many applications licenses as you do machines, but you are also certain that all those machines will never be in use at the same time? How do we word a policy so that it conforms to common sense, and at the same time can survive legal twisters? I don’t know, and neither does Microsoft.

The bottom line is this: given the world of piracy Microsoft is very careful about licensing policy statements and their wording, and as I write it has not come up with an acceptable policy statement for individual customers. It will, and when it does, despite all the accusations and speculations in some publications, it will not be trying to use this as a means of revenue enhancement.

The whole issue turns out to be a tempest in a teapot.

System DisksA more disturbing trend has been distribution of computers without operating system CD-ROMs. The system comes with Windows installed, and a “recovery” disk, but the installation CD isn’t there. The CAB (compressed files that expand to become the actual operating system files; search for *.cab to see where yours are) may or may not all be present, and if they are they may be well hidden. In most cases you can get an installation CD for a few dollars, but you have to know to do that, and it can take considerable effort.

I haven’t been able to find out just what is going on here. Microsoft says this is up to the manufacturer. OEMs blame Microsoft. I have asked Microsoft for an official statement on this, but I don’t have it yet. It’s not clear to me who’s doing what because I am not much affected: I tend either to build my own systems or work with professional equipment, and of course I have installation CD’s for all operating systems I use.

Indeed, every one of the Compaq professional workstations and laptops I have had over the years has come with a sealed package containing the Windows installation CD and a certificate of authenticity, so did the AMD Athlon. Microsoft clearly didn’t forbid that. My other systems have been built out of parts. I keep spare copies of Windows available to install on those: as one system is retired, the OS license goes to another. If one gets out of my labs to someone else I send along the OS certificate as well.

I understand, though, that many consumer-level computers are delivered without installation CDs. My advice in those cases is to take whatever effort you must to get your installation CD. You may never need it, but if you do, you’ll need it bad and in a hurry. Alternatively, when you see a big sale on the latest Windows OS at a ridiculously low price, grab it. It’s cheap insurance and, unlike the procedures for getting an installation CD, takes none of your time.

If you don’t do that, you may be subject to the system’s “critical-need detector,” which kicks in to disable the machine and clobber the operating system precisely when you most need it to work. Of course, there are people to whom it doesn’t matter if their computer is down for a few days. I just don’t know any of them. (Except Harlan Ellison, but then he doesn’t have a computer.)

(For information on where and how to get Windows OS disks from Microsoft — at hopefully the least-worst price — See “Getting Windows CDs From Microsoft: It Can Be Done!” in Byte.com executive editor Daniel Dern’s August 14, 2000 “Letter From The Editor.”)

Windows ME/Voodoo 5 Loses Text For a writer, the cardinal sin of any system is losing original text. In reality, it may not have been very good text, but it will not take long for a writer to convince himself that the computer has just erased the best thing he has ever done, words to shame Shakespeare by.

I’ve just lost text.

The system is Galacticus, an Intel 933 system on an Intel D815EEA “Easton” motherboard with a 3dfx Voodoo 5 video board. When I first began writing with computers I got in the habit of saving fairly often, so I lost no more than a couple of paragraphs, but it’s annoying. I was working on this column when the system just froze up. No mouse, no keyboard. Control-alt-delete did nothing. The system was entirely frozen, and worse, the last things I had done to the column were not visible on the screen.

After about a minute the system reset itself. When it came back all seemed normal. Invoking Word, I got a “recovered” document, but I was still missing a couple of paragraphs. It’s no big deal, but it is annoying.

I suspected the Voodoo drivers, so I went to the 3dfx website and downloaded an 8-Mbyte program dated September 20 or so. That took about 15 minutes. Installation was simple. It’s a self-executing file. We will now see just what that does for me, but I am still a bit distressed. I have not actually lost a whole paragraph of text on a computer in quite a while. With luck and the new drivers it will never happen again. If it does, out goes that Voodoo board, and I’ll rely on the built-in video from the Intel Easton board, but I suspect it was a driver problem.

Categories: Platforms

4 Comments on “Ah Microsoft – Your Licensing Is Evil!”

  1. Business is business and Microsoft is of course, no matter how many times the management denies, also thinking of regaining what they have lost due to piracy.

  2. I do not mind paying twice for Microsoft’s operating system. I like its performance and it is making me productive. It’s just perfect for the industry I am in and it is capable to cope up with my way of living.

  3. I cannot imagine myself using any other operating system. I am satisfied with what Microsoft is providing me with and I am willing to pay twice just to keep it.

  4. A number of enlightening points who have mentioned in the article, congratulations! I think pirated installation CDs are rampant and Microsoft is only protecting its rights.

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