Thursday, February 01, 2007

Annals of Price Discrimination

by Tom Bozzo

At MacWorld news, Peter Cohen reports that the license for the "Home" editions of Windows Vista forbids its use with virtualization software:
“USE WITH VIRTUALIZATION TECHNOLOGIES. You may not use the software installed on the licensed device within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system,” reads the EULA.
What this means is that you can't install a home version of Vista on an Intel-based Mac using the superlative Parallels Desktop for Mac software, but you may do so using Apple's "Boot Camp" dual-boot software. (*) The virtualization-friendly license is part of the $70-$200 upgrade to the "Business" and/or "Ultimate" versions of Vista.

To my admittedly non-legal mind, it's a test to see whether some gullible judge would uphold Microsoft's arrogation of the right to prevent Vista from being installed on a computer by method A (dual-boot) while permitting installation on the exact same hardware by method B (virtualization).

Microsoft's statement is:
Home users have rarely requested virtualization and so it will not be supported in Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic and Home Premium SKUs.
This is true but misleading. For home users, virtualization used to mean using expensive emulation software to run essential Windows applications on non-Wintel PC hardware v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Today's virtualization software is something completely different.

Back in the day, I used SoftWindows (purchased at an educational discount) to play Civilization II on my 100 MHz Power Mac 7500 long before the Mac version of the game came out. The PowerPC chips were pretty hot for the day (1996) and so Civ was more-or-less playable until the display had to scroll because some unit was moved off-screen. At that point, the game slowed down to an extent that it felt like a monkey with an abacus was doing the computations.

In contrast, Parallels only costs $70 (plus the price of the copy of Windows) and works so well that few users thereof — hardcore PC gamers being a notable exception — would ever want a stinkin' PC after seeing a Mac do its stupid computer trick.

Ben Rudolph of Parallels told Cohen that Microsoft may well lose some sales for its efforts:
“To me, this strategy could hold back users who embrace cutting-edge technologies like virtualization, which means they won’t upgrade to Vista. This means that Microsoft has effectively lost an upgrade customer (in the case of Windows PCs) or an entirely new customer (for Mac and Linux users),” writes Rudolph.
Cool as Parallels is, I have it on the MacBook Pro mainly because I work in an otherwise all-PC shop, and we have Windows-only licenses for some job-critical third-party software. My home needs to run Windows are extremely limited, and adding the price of a big LEGO set to that of legally using Windows under OS X via virtualization pretty much ensures that Bill Gates would get nothing out of me.

This is not the only attempted exertion of market power via EULA. At the Toronto Star, Michael Geist writes that Microsoft is attempting to constrain user behavior in some novel ways:
[T]he terms and conditions [of the Windows Vista license] remove any doubt about who is in control by providing that "this agreement only gives you some rights to use the software. Microsoft reserves all other rights." For those users frustrated by the software's limitations, Microsoft cautions that "you may not work around any technical limitations in the software."
The frightening thing is that there probably are judges out there willing to enforce such terms.


(*) The other potential target is businesses who would want to run multiple virtual Windows PCs on powerful server computers, though why such businesses would want to save money by running crippled Windows "Home" versions is unclear.

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Between you and Ken, you have pretty much convinced me that I ought to be looking into non-Windows OS for my next computer purchase.
While I use and endorse Intel-based Apple laptops and Mac OS X, Linux is looking better and better if you're on Wintel hardware and not looking for a new computer.

P.S., PS, nice South Park avatar there!
Yeah, I'm having technical difficulties in my quest to become Linux-literate. But when my Ubuntu cds arrive, expect lots of Adventures with Linux from my corner of the blogosphere.

Y'all should be proud, nudging the housewife away from Windows like that.
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