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Surprises inside Microsoft Vista's EULA

Not a thing of beauty

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If you're like many security professionals, you may not run Windows as your main OS, but you have to use it for testing purposes. In cases such as that, virtualization is the perfect answer. Fire up VMWare or Parallels, open up your image of Windows XP, and let 'er rip. In cases like that, the Home edition of XP was perfect: a lot cheaper than XP Pro, and still close enough that your testing was valid.

Things will be different with Vista. Buried deep in the back of the EULA, in the sections titled "MICROSOFT WINDOWS VISTA HOME BASIC" and "MICROSOFT WINDOWS VISTA HOME PREMIUM," are two identical clauses:

4. USE WITH VIRTUALIZATION TECHNOLOGIES. You may not use the software installed on the licensed device within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system.

So you can't create a virtual image using Home Basic ($199) or Home Premium ($239). However, the EULA does allow you to use Vista Business ($299) or Vista Ultimate ($399). Hmmm... I wonder why? It couldn't possibly be because those editions cost more, could it? Wanna bet? The fact that there aren't any technical restrictions in place to prevent users from loading Home editions into VMWare, only legal and support barriers, sure lends credence to that supposition.

It gets better, however. If you comply with Microsoft's licensing and use Ultimate within a virtualized environment, you still have to comply with section 6 of the "MICROSOFT WINDOWS VISTA ULTIMATE" appendix to the Vista EULA:

6. USE WITH VIRTUALIZATION TECHNOLOGIES. You may use the software installed on the licensed device within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system on the licensed device. If you do so, you may not play or access content or use applications protected by any Microsoft digital, information or enterprise rights management technology or other Microsoft rights management services or use BitLocker. We advise against playing or accessing content or using applications protected by other digital, information or enterprise rights management technology or other rights management services or using full volume disk drive encryption.

IANAL (I am not a lawyer), but it sure seems to me that this clause goes way beyond listening to DRM-protected Windows Audio files (and why anyone would even buy that garbage in the first place is beyond me). Section 6 also appears to block the opening and reading of documents "protected" with Microsoft's "Rights Management Services," which I covered a couple of years ago. Basically, this means that if you want to run a Windows version of Office inside Parallels or VMWare so you can create, read, and work on documents that have DRM'd, you're out of luck. Want to test Windows and DRM (those two great tastes that taste great together)? You gotta buy a new PC!

Note: Another group that's going to suffer under these outrageous restrictions on virtualization? Web developers, who just want to test their work under IE. Gee, thanks, Microsoft!

Reinstallation blues

I saved the best for last. Most people never actually install Windows; instead, they just buy a new PC that has the OS pre-installed (of course, the fact that it's virtually impossible to buy a PC that doesn't have Windows already installed, so that Linux users end up paying the Windows tax, is a major problem, but that's an issue for another column).

But I'll bet that most of my readers are exactly the kinds of people that end up buying retail copies of Windows and installing them on many different machines - or virtual machines, as I discussed above. Windows Activation, introduced with Windows XP, insures that you don't install the same copy of Windows on more than one machine at a time. That's fine - annoying, but fine. But clause 15 of the new Vista EULA - "REASSIGN TO ANOTHER DEVICE" - goes way beyond that.

a. Software Other than Windows Anytime Upgrade. The first user of the software may reassign the license to another device one time. If you reassign the license, that other device becomes the "licensed device."

b. Windows Anytime Upgrade Software. The first user of the software may reassign the license to another device one time, but only if the license terms of the software you upgraded from allows reassignment.

As I read this, you go to the store and buy a copy of Vista, which you install on a PC you had in your office. A year later, another PC becomes available that's a bit more up to date, so you decide to transfer your Vista license to that machine.

You're now finished with that Vista license. Done. Game over, man. Whether you shelled out $199 for Home Basic or broke the bank with the $399 Ultimate makes no difference. You've reassigned the license twice, and that's all that Microsoft allows.

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