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Amid a rising tide of questions surrounding its end-user license for Windows Vista, Microsoft is attempting to quell concerns that a one-time-only transfer provision could put roadblocks in the way of enthusiasts who repeatedly upgrade their PCs.
In response to a series of questions from TechWeb (transcript below), Microsoft says that the "hardware tolerance of product activation for Windows Vista has been improved and is more flexible." The software giant adds that it has no current plans to change the terms of the Vista license.
The specific Vista license provision that's sparked discussion appears on page seven of the 14-page license under the subhead "Reassign to another device." It reads: "The first user of the software may reassign the license to another device one time."
That's being interpreted by some PC enthusiasts -- the appellation given to tech-savvy users who build and upgrade their own machines -- as going beyond simply limiting the transfer of Vista to a second complete PC. Rather, they believe it'll kick in when they attempt to upgrade their existing machine, perhaps when they add a new graphics card or install a faster processor. That view has gained traction in part because Windows XP has long, in practice, required that users who make significant system hardware changes revalidate their operating system by re-entering their product-key code.
However, in practice, Microsoft's support phone line has typically given XP users the validation code they need to keep their systems going. As well, the issue never reared its head with XP because the language in the license is less specific as regards transfers. However, with Vista, enthusiasts appear concerned that Microsoft's apparent accommodation might not continue.
Typical of the push-back against the license is a comment posted on Microsoft's Vista Team Blog. "I cannot believe that you are going to restrict reinstallation/transfer of Vista licenses to two machines essentially," wrote a user who identified himself only as "anonymous," on Oct. 13. "What is going to happen for the enthusiast market? Ok, I want to upgrade to a new processor in a year. Oh wait... I can't, I just upgraded my hard disk a year ago. Sorry, you have to buy a new license. Have a motherboard burn out, and want to upgrade to a new processor/mobo? Sorry, but you have to get a new license."
The issue broke into wider consciousness when two noted Windows bloggers -- Ed Bott and Paul Thurrott -- weighed in on the subject. Thurrott essentially downplayed the concerns, while Bott called on Microsoft to clarify its position.
For its part, Microsoft has been treading carefully in addressing concerns about the license. On Oct. 16, it posted a response on the Vista blog from Microsoft product manager Nick White: "I'm working with my colleagues to get a better idea of the true meaning behind the language in the EULA [End User License Agreement] so I can share that with you and you can come to a more informed decision than could be made by taking only the interpretations currently being discussed on the internet (which are not fully informed and in some cases, flat wrong) into account."
On Oct. 17, TechWeb sent Microsoft a series of questions requesting clarification of questions surrounding the Vista license. A Microsoft public relations representative responded on Oct. 26.
Here's the Q&A with the Microsoft spokesman, edited for space. The exchange took place via e-mail; under terms of the interview, the Microsoft representative, who works for the company's Waggener-Edstrom public-relations agency and is relaying the software giant's official position, is identified only as a spokesman.
TechWeb: What happens if someone adds a hardware upgrade to their PC (like a new graphic card, or a faster processor); does that count as one transfer? If it does, what happens if they do a second upgrade, which is seen by the PC as requiring revalidation. Does this mean they're over the limit and have to purchase a new Vista license?
Microsoft: "The hardware tolerance of product activation for Windows Vista has been improved and is more flexible than that for Windows XP. We believe these improvements will better accommodate the needs of our PC enthusiast customers.
When hardware components are changed, Microsoft's product activation process compares information derived from the initial validation, which includes the hardware configuration of the device, against the changes that have been made. This process uses an algorithm to help assess whether the software is installed on the same device. Validation will fail if the software detects a substantially different hardware configuration.
At that point, the customer is able to use the one reassignment for the new device. If, after using its one reassignment right, a customer again exceeds the tolerance for updated components, the customer can purchase an additional license or seek remediation through Microsoft's support services.
Microsoft cares a great deal for its PC enthusiast customers. In fact, the hardware tolerance of product activation for Windows Vista has been improved and is more flexible than that for Windows XP. We believe these improvements will better accommodate the needs of our PC enthusiast customers."
TechWeb: Will Vista allow these changes without revalidation, or will it ask for re-validation the way XP usually does when you add something, and then you have to call phone support and explain what you did, and if they're okay with it they give you a serial number to type in and successfully proceed with validation?
Microsoft: "The process is similar to what it was in XP."
TechWeb: Does Microsoft have any plans to explicitly change the language in the license.
Microsoft: "No, we have nothing more to share at this time."
TechWeb: How would you like to response to the many users who've been commenting on the Vista Team Blog?
Microsoft: "We are taking all feedback into account, and are encouraged that so many people are interested in learning more about Windows Vista. We have nothing more to share at this time."