[Distutils] Call for information - What assumptions can I make about Unix users' access to Windows?

Steve Dower Steve.Dower at microsoft.com
Mon Nov 10 17:35:01 CET 2014

Ben Finney wrote:
> Steve Dower <Steve.Dower at microsoft.com> writes:
>> Ben Finney wrote:
>> > The restrictions of the license terms make MS Windows an
>> > unacceptable risk on any machine I'm responsible for.
>> Just out of interest, which restrictions would those be?
> It has been a long time since I bothered to read any of the numerous license
> texts from Microsoft, so I can't cite specific clauses. From memory,
> unacceptable restrictions include:
> * Restricting the instance to specific hardware, instead of leaving it
> up to the recipient to run the work they paid for on any hardware they
> choose.

If by "specific hardware" you mean the one-license-per-user-per-machine rule, you probably want to consider Windows Server, which has a more flexible license in this respect (or maybe not - it might just allow multiple users on one license/machine. I haven't checked this).

> * Forbidding reverse-engineering of the OS to see how it behaves.

Yeah, I doubt that restriction is moving anywhere. It's standard for closed-source software, and as I understand it's intended to legally protect trade secrets and patents (i.e. "we tried our hardest to keep this a trade secret"). I've never heard of anyone being pursued for doing it though, except to be offered a job working on Windows :)

> * Forbidding collaboration with other recipients to discover how the OS
> behaves.

"Other recipients" are explicitly excluded - "for use by one person at a time"[1] - so the rest of this point doesn't really make any sense to me.

That said, it does trigger some memories of when I was contributing to ReactOS years ago... is this one of their suggestions about how to avoid taint? (Or maybe from Wine?) Those guys have obtained their own legal advice which is going to be aimed at preventing a court case (not just preventing a loss - preventing it from happening in the first place) and so it's going to be based on an interpretation of the license and be more defensive than most people need to worry about.

> * Refusal to disclose the source code for the running OS to the
> recipient.

Again, it's part of the business and legal model. If you really want access to the source code, you can pay for it, but most people and businesses can't afford it or don't want it that badly. (There are also technical reasons why the source code can't easily be disclosed - how many hundreds of gigabytes of code are you willing to download and wade through? Yes, it's that big.)

> * Forbidding the recipient from getting their choice of vendor to make
> improvements to the OS and collaborate with other recipients on the
> improvements.

I know this used to exist, as there were a number of RT/embedded OSs available that were based on Windows. I think at this point they've all been absorbed into Microsoft though.

> * Arrogating control of the running OS to a party other than the license
> recipient, including the ability to (at Microsoft's sole discretion)
> deny applications to run, and to disable features of the OS.
> * Arrogating data collection to Microsoft and undisclosed third parties,
> tracking broad classes of activity on the OS and sending the logs to a
> server not of the recipient's choosing.

It seems you fundamentally disagree with the 'licensing' model and would prefer an 'ownership' model. That's fine, but it's not the business model Windows operates under and that is unlikely to ever change. Even if I were CEO, I'd have a hard time changing that one :)

>> Does this prevent you from creating a VM on a cloud provider on your
>> own account?
> If I need to accept restrictions such as the above, I don't see that the
> location of the instance (nor the fees charged) has any affect on these
> concerns. The risks discussed above are not mitigated.
>> If the licensing is a real issue, I'm in a position where I can have a
>> positive impact on fixing it, so any info you can provide me (on- or
>> off-list) about your concerns is valuable.
> Thank you for this offer, I am glad to see willingness expressed to solve these
> restrictions. I hope you can achieve software freedom for all recipients of
> Microsoft operating systems.
> Until then, the risk is too great to anyone to whom I have professional
> responsibilities, and my advice must continue to be that they avoid accepting
> such restrictions.

That's a fair enough position, and without people taking that stance, Linux (and practically every OS that's based on it) wouldn't be anywhere near as usable as it is today. I'm also fully aware of people with the exact opposite stance who give the exact opposite advice, so there's room in this world for all of us.

I'm sorry I can't do any better than the few responses above - these are big issues that run to the core of how Microsoft does business, and not only am I incapable of changing them, I'm nowhere near capable of fully understanding how it all fits together. Thanks for being willing to engage, though. It's always valuable to hear alternative points of view and get a better feeling for how the things we do here are perceived.

Rest assured, I will continue to push for as many of our products to be free OSS as I can (we've already put out many developer products under Apache 2.0 or MIT), but it's slow progress and Windows will likely be the last one to make the switch.


1: http://download.microsoft.com/Documents/UseTerms/Windows_8_English_ca383862-45cf-467e-97d3-386e0e0260a6.pdf

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