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In Vista, to license means 'to restrict'


'Net Insider 


By Scott Bradner, Network World, 10/20/06


Reading software licensing agreements is not the most fun thing I can think of, but sometimes a columnist has to forsake fun.


I spent time doing this because of some press stories about bothersome restrictions in the new license for the home editions of Windows Vista. It turns out this license is quite well written and only a little strange but does limit purchasers in a couple of ways.


It's been a long time since I read through a Microsoft software license so I do not know when they started using the English language (rather than level-23 legalese), but it sure is a nice thing. This license is very easy to read and understand, but it is rather long at 14 pages.


I compared the Microsoft Vista license with the Apple license for the latest version of its operating system. Apple's Panther license is only three pages long - although it is in smaller print - and contains fewer restrictions than the Microsoft license, but is nowhere as clearly written. The Apple lawyers must not be as willing to make it so mortals can understand. The Apple license clearly states that the software is not intended to be used for controlling nuclear facilities, aircraft systems, life support systems or anyplace where someone might get hurt if the software failed.


Apple says upfront that the software does not belong to you - you only get a license to use it. It takes Microsoft five pages to get around to mentioning that, but the result is the same. Maybe because this is the license for the home editions of Vista, you are limited to running the software on two processors at the same time - this could be a problem in a few years considering industry directions (my new Mac pro has four cores; I'm not sure if that is two processors or four).


The media coverage on the new license focused on the new single license transfer limitation and the restrictions on using the home versions of Vista in virtual machines. The transfer restriction says you can reassign the license to a different device only one time, so if you replace your computer more than once you will need to buy another copy.


The license says you cannot use Vista Home Basic or Home Premium in a virtual machine. You can use Vista Ultimate in a virtual machine but you cannot play any content protected by Microsoft rights management technologies. In other words, you cannot run Vista on your Mac using Parallels unless you have the Ultimate version and then you cannot play music or some games - seems far from ultimate to me.


The Microsoft license also says you may not "work around any technical limitations in the software." Does that mean you cannot address security bugs using third-party fixes? The fact that the language is clear does not mean that it all makes sense.


Disclaimer: I hope there are classes in clear language at the Harvard Law School, but I'm not sure. In any case, the above review is mine alone.


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