License transfers aren't the only thing the End User License Agreement (EULA) for Microsoft's Windows Vista OS limits. The license also puts restrictions on how benchmarks of certain components of the OS can be published, another issue that is raising eyebrows as Microsoft still has not clarified how changes will specifically affect users.
According to the Vista EULA, because the OS contains "one or more components" of the .Net Framework 3.0, users can conduct internal benchmarking of those components, but can't disclose the results of those benchmarks -- or measurements to compare rival products -- unless they comply with conditions found at a Microsoft Web site.
Several attempts to reach that Web site to see what those conditions are for benchmarking were unsuccessful on Tuesday, as the page for unknown reasons could not be displayed in Internet Explorer 7.
Several published reports and open-source proponents have raised concerns about this terminology of the Vista license, claiming it limits the benchmarking of Windows Vista that can be published because of the inclusion of the .Net Framework. While benchmarking is still possible, Microsoft is in control of how that information is released, and the company can change the rules on the "conditions" Web site at anytime. This could make it difficult for anyone to get a clear idea of how the OS and certain components perform, critics said.
"To be in control of what is published seems to be the logical consequence of Microsoft's policy," said Joachim Jakobs, a representative for the Free Software Foundation Europe, via e-mail. He cites several instances in which this behavior around benchmarks is consistent with other efforts Microsoft has used to control the use of its software, such as its litigation against companies it says violates patents Microsoft owns, and the company's continuing antitrust tussle with the European Union.
Microsoft said Tuesday that on Thursday it will clarify issues raised by changes in Vista licensing -- including ones around benchmarking. User concerns over Vista licensing began several weeks ago when it was disclosed that Microsoft is limiting the number of machines to which users can transfer licenses to one as part of the changes.
To be fair, the limitations on .Net Framework benchmarking are not new -- they have been around since Microsoft introduced the development framework. But benchmarking and other limitations in Windows Vista brings to light a larger issue about the OS' licensing in general, said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft in Kirkwood, Washington.
"My bigger issue with the license in general is that it's just indecipherable," he said. "There are a lot of terms that are probably more important to me than benchmarking, but how do I find them among these obscure things that are unclear about what I can or cannot do?"
Joe Lindsay, chief information officer for mortgage firm, Secured Funding, agreed that licenses for commercial software are getting particularly hard to understand, and he thinks it's driving more people to view open source as a viable alternative.
"These licenses are getting increasingly more confusing," Lindsay said. "Part of the reason people find open source so appealing is [they think,] 'I just want software. I don't need a lawyer, I need an OS, some hardware and a programming language and then leave me alone'."
However, Lindsay said he wasn't troubled by any limits on Vista benchmarking, since "most people who've been around awhile know that benchmarks are not worth the paper they are printed on."
Similarly, Lindsay said he is unfazed by all the hype surrounding the imminent arrival of Vista, saying his company is looking at it but will only upgrade when they can "justify the cost."
"Vista is just an evolution of Windows XP," he said. "It still requires a mouse, a keyboard and a file system and it runs Office. Is it really that revolutionary? No. I want it to read my mind. When it can do that, then I'll be impressed."