VSJ – September 2001 – Work in Progress

Council member John Ellis, FIAP says: The future’s not so bright, the future’s XP
As Microsoft’s latest offering, Windows XP, and the associated upgrades to the Microsoft Office application are rolled out with it later this year, controversy rages over the company’s new software licensing policy.
Gone is the simple idea of just entering a registration code from the box or the disk. Now we must either be online to register or telephone Microsoft for the second half of the registration code. With the present Web infrastructure, responses to such messages are often slow or non-existent, particularly as Denial of Service attacks seem to be on the increase. Telephoning Microsoft is almost as bad. Currently, it can take up to 30 minutes to get through to a person who can provide an answer on its restricted (8 a.m. – 6 p.m.) telephone support line in the UK.
Why the convoluted registration procedure? Well, Microsoft, like many other companies, has for many years been worried about software piracy. In the past we have seen dongles, registration keys and even “pick the 3rd word on the 6th line of page 10 of the manual” to stop piracy, but of course these have all been bypassed by cunning patches or just plain photocopying, among other ploys. Now, people simply publish the hacks or lists of registration codes on the Web. So the unscrupulous end-user can easily copy a disk and use it, simplifying the whole process.
I suspect that Microsoft is more interested in areas where wholesale piracy is seen as a way of life and are trying to clamp down here, particularly in countries where copying installation disks may not be illegal.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, Windows XP has already been hacked while in beta. Web-sites already publish the much-needed codes to save you registering. This means that it is more difficult to register legitimately than to use a bypass code! If you purchase a copy of XP and then use a cracked code to install it, have you broken the law?
How does it affect you and me?
Well, you can install Windows on a PC up to 10 times (contacting Microsoft each time). Then it’s a bit cloudy. Does the disk self-destruct? Does Microsoft send an assessor to interrogate you to see if you can continue to use the product?
If you replace the hard drive or change the motherboard the system may need to be reinstalled as Windows is keyed to a unique PC configuration. This might mean reinstalling your O/S every time you upgrade. What joy!
There are now also legal issues to be considered and the advent of XP has forced Microsoft to come clean. If you buy a copy of Windows (any version) you can install it on a single PC. You can transfer the licence to another PC or to another person if you sell the PC. However, if it is an OEM version it is licensed to the PC you buy. This means that, if you sell the PC, the licence goes with it, but if you upgrade it – add a new hard drive or replace the processor – you technically have a new PC and should now buy a new Windows licence for that PC.
Microsoft has played this down but many legal minds have identified it and, again, this is foot in mouth stuff for the Redmond crew. I am sure many people will ignore this factor when upgrading, but XP makes it more difficult just to pass over.
Will people upgrade? Well if they have a PC with 128MB of RAM spare they probably will, particularly if they believe the hype. Then again, those of us writing systems may wish to watch the service releases over the first 18 months before trying to deploy to the new environment. Many organisations and individuals may consider not upgrading just because it is such a hassle to roll out. New PCs may come with XP, but over the last 2 years most people have upgraded to PIIIs with Windows ME and are probably happy, so they may hold fire also. Others may reinstall their copy of ME or NT4 or 2000.
Technically the product may be the way forward, but Microsoft’s registration policy might actually help the other camps waiting in the wings. The large hammer to crack the small nut may not end up ruining Microsoft, but it could make a very large dent in its market share.
You can contact John at john.ellis@wellis-technology.co.uk
Interesting project or development? Let us know at eo@iap.org.uk!

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