Microsoft pulls a classic Coke

Innocent users suffer Microsoft's anti-piracy regime

There is nothing that gets my dander up faster than reading an email from a consumer who has purchased a PC from some local computer shop and finds out months later that the OS installed on the machine is a pirate copy. Often, by the time they realize what has happened, the shop has folded its tent and disappeared. Frankly, there isn't a shovel big enough to dig the hole I'd like to drop these kinds of rip-off artists into.

So, when Microsoft attempted to do something to combat counterfeiting, I was in their corner. But, when they put innocent users and PC enthusiasts on the ropes in order to K.O. the crooks...well, count me out ref.

With Vista , MS had initially announced that you would only be able to transfer the license to one machine from the PC you first installed the OS on. Considering that most of us will likely only upgrade to a new computer once during the lifespan of Vista, at face value that sounded quite reasonable. However, it's just not that cut and dry.

Microsoft had been abysmal in explaining exactly what constituted a "new PC", and confusion was rampant about specifically what changes would force you to actually re-activate via their customer support (ah, a Saturday afternoon spent on hold) or buy a new license. PC power users were very concerned because they upgrade and tweak their systems on a regular basis and the new restrictions would have made their lives very difficult.

Would installing a new video card or RAM result in a new license being required? What about someone who installed Vista and then realized they needed an upgrade to run it well? The folks in customer service at MS must have been stocking up on Prozac, anticipating the flood of irate callers.

Basically, from the point of view of many PC enthusiasts, this license plan was the same as forcing car owners to get another set of plates each time they installed a new pine tree air freshener in their car. OK, it wasn't quite that bad, but did the marketing brain trust at Microsoft really think it wouldn't be perceived this way?

Just as I sat down to write this editorial, MS announced they were flip-flopping on this issue and would not limit installs from one machine to another. However, MS has worded the license to make it clear that users can not share this license between devices. In Windows Vista Business, Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate, the terms now state that "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".

Those who purchase a PC with Vista pre-installed will not be allowed to transfer the license. This might sound unfair and yet, if you bought the PC and the OS is part of the price, it can be argued that you bought it as part of that one PC and it is not a separate license. I don't have a problem with this, but that's probably because I buy my PCs bare bones and then purchase the OS separately. One thing is for sure, this will cut down on one of the main sources of piracy -- fly-by-night PC stores who have no regard for their customers, ethics or the law.

Maybe I'm falling in with the "tin foil hat crowd" but, all this makes me wonder and begs me to ask the question: is this another Classic Coke / New Coke switch back marketing maneuver? I think Microsoft knew months ago the original license terms would not fly and released them anyway in order to make the revised license terms easier to swallow. How else can you explain the seeming confusion on the part of their PR and marketing people regarding the details? And, if that's the case, who says Microsoft will never learn?

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Jim Ducharme
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