Computer, Software, Technology

Windows Vista EULA: How BAD is it?


Vista Logo 

Ever since I found out that Vista Home and Vista Home Premium editions explicitly prevent you from running the software in a virtual machine I’ve been poring over Microsoft’s EULAs trying to make sense of them. Kudos to Microsoft for providing a nice easy way to browse through all the EULAs for all their software. You can download all the licensing agreements as pdf files from that link.

There have been a number of reports on the internet about all sorts of terrible things you agree to when accepting the Vista EULA, but it isn’t really that bad.

There are however a couple of things that you might want to know. It’s true that Vista Home and Home Premium can not be installed in virtual machines. The specific text reads:

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

Microsoft claims that the majority of users wanting to run Vista under virtualization software are businesses and enthusiast who would be better served by the Business and Ultimate versions respectively. Which, while it may have some merit, is nevertheless market-speak for “we arbitrarily decided to punish users looking to run our software on a part time basis.”

But the crippling doesn’t stop there, even those who go with Vista Ultimate on their virtual machine still can’t play Microsoft DRM content:

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

Another rumor I’d heard about the Vista EULA is that it allows Windows Defender, the built in virus and spyware protection that ships with Vista, to arbitrarily remove programs. How much merit this has depends on how paranoid you are, here’s the relevant text:

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.

In other words, Windows Defender could remove programs you don’t want removed (certain torrent software comes to mind) if the mothership decided to tell it to do so with an update. However you can always disable it and use another anti-virus/adware remover.

The last line in that quote is kind of interesting since it basically says that Windows Defender may not work. However in this day and age it probably behooves Microsoft to err on the side of caution when it comes to security, still it’s not very comforting.

The last part of the licensing that bears mention is sure to send shivers down the spine of any FLOSS advocate:

The software is licensed, not sold. This agreement only gives you some rights to use the software. Microsoft reserves all other rights. Unless applicable law gives you more rights despite this limitation, you may use the software only as expressly permitted in this agreement. In doing so, you must comply with any technical limitations in the software that only allow you to use it in certain ways. For more information, see http://www.microsoft.com/licensing/userights. You may not

  • work around any technical limitations in the software;
  • reverse engineer, decompile or disassemble the software, except and only to the extent that applicable law expressly permits, despite this limitation;
  • use components of the software to run applications not running on the software…

I still have trouble with the idea that commercial software is not sold but licensed, but that’s hardly unique to Windows, most other large commercial software packages ship with similarly worded EULAs. What varies from manufacturer to manufacturer is how the license is applied. In Vista’s case the software is licensed to a specific machine, not a user. You can transfer your software and license to a new machine exactly once after disabling or removing it from the old machine if you bought Vista retail. If your copy of Vista came with the purchase of new computer that copy of Vista may only be legally used on that machine.

On the bright side, Microsoft has done a good job of writing the Vista EULA in a surprisingly readable, low-jargon manner. There’s a few places where the wording gets tricky, but it’s nothing compared to those of some other companies.

I should also point out that regardless of the Vista EULA, local laws governing the country of your residence always trump any EULA so bear that in mind.