Vista’s legal woes

(via Colin Miller. This post is best enjoyed while listening to either Iron Maiden’s “The Number of The Beast”, or R.E.M.’s “The End of The World As We Know It”) .

Windows Vista is nearly upon us. Woe unto us, et cetera, et cetera. The Internet is abuzz with stories of people waiting for Vista with either nervous anticipation or disgruntled disgust. There are those who do not care, but their opinions rarely count, do they? Anyway, whether you’re in the camp of those who will be queuing for a copy of the software, or you will be protesting with placards outside of your local PC World store, you will be aware of some of the issues debated.

The first concern with Vista is the re-vamped technological protection measures designed to seek and destroy objectionable materials in the computer, and which will even disable high-quality payback for unlicensed materials. The less publicised problem is that present in Microsoft’s new EULA. I have finally managed to read it, and what a read it has proved to be!

There are two particular parts that I find troubling and highly problematic. The first relates to the removal of unwanted software:

“If turned on, Windows Defender will search your computer for “spyware,” “adware” and other potentially unwanted software. If it finds potentially unwanted software, the software will ask you if you want to ignore, disable (quarantine) or remove it. Any potentially unwanted software rated “high” or “severe,” will automatically be removed after scanning unless you change the default setting. Removing or disabling potentially unwanted software may result in
· other software on your computer ceasing to work, or
· your breaching a license to use other software on your computer.
By using this software, it is possible that you will also remove or disable software that is not potentially unwanted software.”

This is problematic because it does not define spyware, and because apparently it allows Microsoft to define that which it considers to be at high and severe risk. While it does state what are the potential results of this system, it does not excuse it. It is the equivalent of me stating in a licence “this may result in the removal of your arm.”

The second worrying section relates to hardware upgrade. This reads:

“You may uninstall the software and install it on another device for your use. You may not do so to share this license between devices.
(…)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.”

Some people have commented that this could very well mean that the possibilities for installing hardware upgrades would be seriously limited, particularly because another section in the licence states how many devices can “access the software installed on the licensed device to use File Services, Print Services, Internet Information Services and Internet Connection Sharing and Telephony Services“. This allows 5 devices in Vista Home Basic, and 10 devices in Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate. The practicalities of this is that you will be able to make from five to ten changes in your computer, and after those changes, the licence will be deactivated. If you think that ten devices are a lot, this would in theory include USB drives, iPods, PnP wireless devices, routers, cameras, etc. If Microsoft follows the letter of the licence, the computer will easily become a dud.

Microsoft have stated that this is unlikely, and that the software will not act in the way the licence implies and it will allow minor hardware modifications. On the other hand, some fear that this is a slippery slope, and nothing stops Microsoft from changing their mind.

I tend to be less worried about the letter of the EULA than other people, mostly because in Europe the licence must be read in conjunction with consumer protection for non-individually drafted contracts. If a consumer is party to a form contract with a large retailer or service provider, the clauses contained must provide an adequate balance between the parties. If one clause is deemed abusive by skewing the balance, then the clause can be struck down from the agreement.

However, if you are outside of the European Economic Area, you’re on your own. May we suggest Linux?

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