Microsoft Backpedals on Vista Licensing Restrictions

In the wake of heated criticism,Microsoft on Thursday eased restrictions on Windows Vista licensing. The controversial policy would have limited the number of times a user would be able to transfer the operating system software to a different PC.

In September, Microsoft indicated that users would be able to transfer Vista from the first PC installation to a different machine only one time. The company contended that the restriction was consistent with the longer life expectancy of contemporary PCs.

The limit on transferability overlooked the needs of power users, critics complained, who regularly upgrade their PCs in order to adopt new technologies. For those users — many of whom buy stripped-down PCs without preloaded software — the cost of purchasing additional Vista licenses could be prohibitive.

Change of Heart

The original Windows Vista license read, “The first user of the software may reassign the license to another device one time. If you reassign the license, that other device becomes the licensed device.”

The new licensing language states, “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.”

Microsoft realized that the original terms were perceived as adversely affecting an important group of customers: PC and hardware enthusiasts, according to Nick White, a program manager on Microsoft’s Vista team.

“We respect the time and expense you go to in customizing, building and rebuilding your hardware, and we heard you that the previous terms were seen as an impediment to that,” White wrote in his blog. “It’s for that reason we’ve made this change.”

Catering to Gamers

Microsoft’s change of heart is a direct response to gamers, a group that often has tremendous influence in the consumer and corporate markets, according to Enderle Group Principal Analyst Rob Enderle.

“These guys may be gamers during the evenings, but they are often IT support technicians during the day, and they tend to maintain a much higher level of confidence in the hardware and software as a result. If anybody is going to drive the adoption of a new operating system, these guys would be at the forefront of that group. Making them angry probably isn’t a good thing,” Enderle told TechNewsWorld.

Piracy Concerns

Microsoft licensing restrictions on Windows XP were less stringent and did not specify the number of transfers allowed for single users. The attempt to regulate transfers is directly related to piracy concerns; Microsoft has reported losing billions of dollars to software piracy.

“Microsoft is very concerned about piracy, and they’ve continually had problems with some of the small mom-and-pop system builder shops buying one Windows license and then applying it to a large number of computers,” Enderle noted. “Piracy is also rampant in Eastern Europe and Asia. Microsoft just forgot for a moment that they have a group of folks that legitimately need to move the operating system from machine to machine.”

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