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Microsoft Windows 8 licensing changes aim to simplify, but miss target

Microsoft's attempt to simplify the language of the Windows 8 licensing contract causes confusion in some circles.

Microsoft this month issued an update of a key enterprise Windows 8 licensing document that aims to cut back on the document's legalese and make it easier for customers to understand.

However, Microsoft simplified by omitting and changing language in a way that could make Microsoft's August 2012 Product Use Rights (PUR) agreement for Windows 8 even more confusing, said Paul DeGroot, principal consultant at licensing advisory firm Pica Communications LLC in Camano Island, Wash.

For instance, the way the new, "simplified" PUR reads, a customer cannot run Windows 8 on a virtual machine (VM) because the new operating system is licensed to run only on a physical device. Previous language that would have allowed Windows 8 to be run in a VM has been removed. That right was explicit with Windows 7 licensing, but it's not with Windows 8, DeGroot said.

Windows 8 is the first desktop version of the OS to include a client version of Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor. If the licensing documentation is interpreted to the letter, someone who wants to install Windows 8 in a hypervisor rather than on the physical device would need to add Software Assurance to the Windows OS on their PC, DeGroot said.

Many IT shops virtualize Windows so that if the OS becomes corrupted, recovery can be accomplished much more quickly. Alternatively, separate VMs can be more easily deployed as test platforms.

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In addition, the new PUR removes language that allowed customers to do remote installations of Windows 8 over a network, a common practice that saves help desk personnel and administrators a lot of work, DeGroot said. Only if you add Software Assurance to Windows (for $30 to $55 a year), purchase a Virtual Desktop Access subscription ($88 to $100 a year) or purchase a Windows Intune subscription ($116 to $132 a year) will you be permitted to install a Windows 8 virtual machine, he said.

There are no changes to the virtualization rights available to customers who purchase the Windows 8 Pro Upgrade through Microsoft Volume Licensing versus those for the Windows 7 Professional Upgrade through volume licensing, Microsoft said. "In an effort to condense and simplify the use rights language, where the right to run in either a physical or virtual instance was previously explicitly called out, the right to do so is now implicit within the use rights," the company said.

A similar change was made regarding the networking language. The language regarding network installs was removed from the PUR because the customer agreement permits the distribution of software, making it unnecessary to include in the PUR, according to Microsoft.

But Microsoft might have better served customers if it had explained the language changes upfront, especially because implicit contract changes can lead to misunderstandings and sometimes result in higher license fees, according to DeGroot. "I don't think implicit rights are satisfactory in a contract, particularly where there has been longstanding language in a particular area," he said. "Customers need much better guidance for such changes."

Making certain use rights implicit could leave customers open to licensing violations. "Microsoft may -- and does -- demand additional revenue from customers based on implicit rules where there is no explicit basis for the demand," DeGroot said. Others say Microsoft's licensing language needed to be simplified, as the old end-user licensing agreements were very precise and thus complex to the point of being opaque.

"In language, there is a tradeoff between precision and complexity," said Mark Eisenberg, director at international IT advisory firm Fino Consulting LLC in New York. "They are issuing a license that permits the user to install it on one physical or virtual machine [with no limitations on the host of the VM]," he said. "How much simpler can it get?"

It is still safest to get contract rights down in black and white, Pica Communications' DeGroot said. "They should get written confirmation, and ideally, an amendment to their contract that makes the more generous implicit rights explicit in their contract," he added.

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