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Why the new MS licensing Ts & Cs are important

And why you shouldn't doze like some people we could mention

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We've found Fred Langa absolutely hysterical for years, so we're pleased to see we've finally been able - however unintentionally - to repay our debt to the Great Man. We are, apparently, hysterical, yellow-tinted, inflammatory, and publish (amongst, he concedes, better stuff) embarrasingly shallow rants. We wouldn't ordinarily trouble you with the maunderings of some overpaid boat-anchor, but Fred, by getting it absolutely wrong, illustrates why it's vital that people are aware of the steady ratcheting upwards of Microsoft's (and indeed the software industry's in general) licensing terms and conditions, and why it is important to worry about them.

Fred, who in this area falls into the category of one of Lenin's "useful idiots,"* does not see Microsoft's new standard software licence, which authorises "Microsoft or its designated agent" to access information about your computer, and to "use this information solely to improve our products or to provide customized services or technologies to you," as a problem or a significant change in what the company has been doing already. Just legal butt-covering, you can always switch it off, says Fred, poo-pooing our suggestion that Microsoft is giving itself admin rights over your computer. Which does make this wording a little tricky to figure out:

"You agree that in order to protect the integrity of content and software protected by digital rights management ('Secure Content'), Microsoft may provide security related updates to the OS Components that will be automatically downloaded onto your computer. These security related updates may disable your ability to copy and/or play Secure Content and use other software on your computer. If we provide such a security update, we will use reasonable efforts to post notices on a web site explaining the update."

The content/DRM-related terms and conditions Microsoft is currently experimenting (we hope that's the right word) with seem notably more savage than the new standard Windows licences, but the point here is that terms and conditions are changing, little by little, and although you can currently switch the nasties off, most people won't, because they won't know about them, and it will become progressively harder to switch them off anyway, or indeed to operate in a world where services from Microsoft and friends more and more expect them to be switched on.

As regards Windows Update, it has been becoming more and more difficult to track down patches and fixes and install them by hand, and some of the ones you can get hold of now come with interesting little presents from Microsoft like the excerpt above, with its intriguing redefinition of security update. Whose security? Yours, or theirs?

The time will come when you will not be able to obtain fixes to the product you have already paid for without being forced to agree to whatever new terms the software industry, its attorneys and its paying customers currently find convenient. Sure, now, you can just say no (sometimes), but the likely widespread tacit acceptance of new terms and conditions, and people saying "don't worry" in the public prints, are very useful factors indeed for the industry.

Things change slowly, your rights are slowly eroded, nobody bar a few ranting maniacs shouts about it, then a year or two down the line we get to the next step. It's just a little one, oh, just a tad of legal butt-covering, people huff, not much different from what they were doing before anyway. And so, on to the next step. That's why it's important to know, to worry and - while you can - to resist. ®

* Essentially, VI meant by this fellow travellers who supported the hidden agenda without spotting it, or indeed its consequences for themselves.

Related stories:
How to defang Win2k SP3's auto updating
Win2k SP3, the 'snooper' licence, and the workaround

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