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I miss the early days of the PC era when some vendors got the whole licensing concept right. Borland International comes to mind. They had a very simple, plain language license agreement that basically said “Treat this like a book. You can install it on as many PCs as you like, as long as it will only be used by one person at a time, like a book.” Microsoft Corp. was never quite that simple in its approach, but today, the Redmond, Wash., giant is on the offensive. The easy target is the classic boogeyman of the software industry: piracy. Piracy is indeed a bad thing. It cheats those who’ve created something valuable out of their rightful compensation. My theory has always been if it’s good enough to use, it’s good enough to pay for. On the other hand, software used to be the cheapest part of a PC purchase, often accounting for a small fraction of the total system cost. Today the software you run probably costs more than the hardware. I don’t begrudge Microsoft taking steps to protect its intellectual property. I do have a problem with the heavy-handedness they use in enforcement, but more on that later. LEVERAGING TECHNOLOGY To take a new tack on an old problem Microsoft is leveraging technology, specifically the Internet to accomplish its goal of reducing piracy. With the Internet, Microsoft can enforce its licensing rules by taking a snapshot of your PC configuration and linking it to your product registration number in its database. That’s what the new “Product Activation” is all about in Windows XP and Office XP, and I predict soon in every other Microsoft product if it doesn’t have it already. With “Product Activation” you must keep a particular license code associated with a specific PC. No more locking most of your licensed copies away in a cabinet and using the same disk and installation code to install the software on all your PCs. That capability is only available to those using Microsoft’s volume licensing agreements, which are generally available only to those with five or more PCs, leaving many small firms out of luck. If you are lucky enough to be big enough, you can bypass this hassle because “Product Activation” is not required for volume licensed customers. Microsoft also has tighted up its largess of early days, when it allowed users to legally install Microsoft Office suite on a second computer — so long as both were never used at the same time. This was a very reasonable approach for many law firm members who wanted to be able to do a little work in the evening on their home PC. Because the office desktop PC was sitting unused, a user could legitimately use the same copy of Word at home to knock out some work. Now, it’s not quite as free a reign. Says David Jaffe, lead product manager of Microsoft’s Office suite: “The terms of the Office XP retail EULA (End-User License Agreement) are explicit, and specify that the primary user is able to install one additional copy on their laptop or portable device for their exclusive use. Microsoft cares about the importance of intellectual property protection and through education and awareness the company has found consumers would want to use legal and genuine software.” To be specific, the EULA on the retail edition does allow you to install a second copy of office on a second “portable computer” provided you “run a business or enterprise” and the second copy is “… for the exclusive use of the person within your business or enterprise who is the user of the primary copy of the software product, provided that such person only uses the second copy is for business purposes.” So, under this provision, business users can run the same licensed copy of Office on another portable computer, but don’t take that portable to your Little League game and keep score. That would be a violation of the terms of the EULA. PURRS AND SNAGS The process of actually doing this can be fairly straightforward, or it can be tricky. I installed one copy on my desktop and went through the product activation. No problem. I installed the second copy on my laptop and, again, went through the product activation. No problem. Law Technology News editor Monica Bay went the opposite way, installing Office first on her laptop, then on her home desktop. The desktop squawked about not being licensed. Microsoft reps told us that it should have worked — that the system should not cry foul until it sees a third instance of the same license. Indeed, Monica ultimately concluded the glitch may have been caused by the bit of trouble she had upgrading to Windows XP on her Hewlett-Packard Pavilion 7855 [you need HP drivers first before you can upgrade from Windows Me]. She had to uninstall Office and then re-install it — which might have triggered the “three installation” problem. Should that happen to you, Microsoft says, just call the product activation hotline at (888) 652-2342. That’s an automated system but you can “O” out to customer service specialist. (For more information on installation, see www.microsoft.com/piracy/ basics/activation/how.asp.) FLYING AWAY My own personal complaint about Microsoft’s heavy-handedness comes from a letter I received last year, addressed to the corporation that a friend and I own for the sole purpose of holding ownership of an aircraft. The corporation has no other assets, besides the airplane, not even a PC. The letter advised that they had no record of us registering any Microsoft products and that we should do a software audit to confirm we were in compliance with their licenses. I guess Microsoft has reached a level of world dominance that they can presume no entity can legitimately exist without using their software. I was tempted to respond that FAA safety and reliability standards precluded us from using Microsoft products in aviation. But I bit my tongue and ignored the letter, then thought fond thoughts of the folks at Borland. Loren Jones, a member of the Law Technology News Editorial Advisory Board, is a technology consultant based in Prior Lake, Minnesota. E-mail: [email protected].

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