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Win2k SP3, the ‘snooper’ licence, and the workaround

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We've had quite a few emails from Windows 2000 Service Pack refuseniks who propose not to go anywhere near SP3 on the grounds that the installation insists you agree to the new-look Microsoft 'snooper's charter' supplementary licence in order to apply it. The critical clauses seem to be becoming standard for Microsoft products, and although they can be presented as helpful/necessary for updates, they could also be used for DRM purposes, and provide cover for more widespread snooping.

Naturally, you wouldn't expect a trustworthy company like Microsoft to abuse the rights it's unilaterally giving itself by deigning to fix the product it's already sold you under less onerous terms, would you? Have a think about it while you read through these two paragraphs:

"By using these features, you explicitly authorize Microsoft or its designated agent to access and utilize the necessary information for updating purposes. Microsoft may use this information solely to improve our products or to provide customized services or technologies to you. Microsoft may disclose this information to others, but not in a form that personally identifies you.

"* The OS Product or OS Components contain components that enable and facilitate the use of certain Internet-based services. You acknowledge and agree that Microsoft may automatically check the version of the OS Product and/or its components that you are utilizing and may provide upgrades or fixes to the OS Product that will be automatically downloaded to your computer."

And you can see the Windows Update end of the deal if you look here, provided of course you haven't already used the IE-hiding capabilities of SP3. If you have, no matter, it says it's collecting: "Operating-system version number and Product Identification number, Internet Explorer version number, Version numbers of other software, Plug and Play ID numbers of hardware devices."

What though, can you do about this? Well, you can join the refuseniks and carry on at SP2 level, hoping that you won't get pranged by a supplementary EULA through some vital security update or because some future product declines to run without SP3. But refusenikery does ultimately lead to abandoning Windows, presuming that new products will have similar or worse licence agreements, and presuming you don't propose to run Win2k SP2 for the rest of your life.

Or you could just install SP3 and console yourself with the thought that the legal enforcement of a shotgun EULA via a Service Pack would be even more impossible than the enforcement of the original EULA. Software licence agreements in general are shot through with ridicululous plop that the vendors would have trouble making stick, and as has been argued round here before, some parts of them are even illegal.

Or you could just install SP3 without agreeing to the supplementary EULA. How do you do that? We're glad you asked. Ordinarily we try not to get to close to encouraging or helping people to crack software, but we think this case is a tad different. As we said earlier, SP3 is to a great extent an exercise in fixing bugs in something you have already bought, and it is an outrageous imposition (OK, we didn't say that earlier) for Microsoft to seize more rights for itself as a condition of those fixes being applied.

A helpful tipster directed us to a cute product called Enabler, which you will find here. Enabler is one of a number of handy things on this worthy site, and seems to do quite a number of handy things itself. But what it does that's important from the point of view of people wanting to install SP3 is allow you to click OK after you've checked "I do not agree" to the supplemental EULA. Note that you use it at your own risk, don't blame us if, etc (insert draconian Register EULA here).

This, seeing you're in too much of a hurry to read the instructions, is how you do it. Run Enabler, then start the SP3 install. Click on "I don't agree" when you get there. The OK box is grey, right? OK, go to Enabler, and scroll down until you get to the entry for Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 Setup Wizard. Double click on it, expand the tree then go to the entry that says &Next> (Button). Right click on this, and click on Enable. Now return to the SP3 Wizard, and you'll magically find you can click on Next even though I do not agree is checked.

Wonderful, isn't it? And as far as we can figure out you're not doing anything wrong either. Well, not much. It does say above the supplementary EULA that to continue with setup, "you must accept the agreement." So Microsoft's lawyers could argue that you're not licensed to use SP3 because you haven't agreed. Which is approximately the same territory as the wording in the WinXP EULA which says you're not licensed if you don't activate it in the approved way (so you could have paid for the product, but by using a workaround for product activation you'd be invalidating your licence anyway).

Microsoft's lawyers are not going to come after you for warezing a service pack, and we doubt very much they'd come after you for installing a copy of WinXP without agreeing the licence (NB we don't know if Enabler would allow you to do this, and we're not about to reinstall XP again today just to find out). So you're probably in the clear anyway?

Well, not exactly, because if you've installed a Microsoft product without agreeing to Microsoft helping itself to data from your machine, then legally speaking it's your move. You may be in breach of your licence agreement, but Microsoft will be helping itself to this information anyway despite your not having given it permission to do so. So you're going to have to sue. Good luck. ®

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