All Hail Understandable EULAs!
I could be missing something fundamental here, but it seems to be that since Bill Gates left the Microsoft Corporation, the company's End User License Agreements for its software have become increasingly easier to comprehend by us laypeople. What do you think?
First of all, many consumers have no earthly idea how retail software licensing works. That is, Dick or Jane thinks that by walking into Staples and plunking down $300 for a copy of Microsoft Windows Vista Business, he or she "owns" that software. Nope.
With retail software, what you are paying for is a license to use a particular piece of software; specifically, permission to install that software on (in most cases) a single computer. That's what "single-user license" means. The specific regulations governing that usage are outlined in a document known as an End User License Agreement, or EULA (pronounced YOU-lah).
Historically, Microsoft's EULAs consisted of an admixture of IT geekspeak and traditional legalese. Take, for instance, the EULA for the Windows 2000 operating system. Here is a lil' snippet for you to gnaw upon (source):
Storage/Network Use. The SOFTWARE PRODUCT may not be installed, accessed, displayed, run, shared or used concurrently on or from different computers, including a workstation, terminal or other digital electronic device ("Devices"). Notwithstanding the foregoing and except as otherwise provided below, any number of Devices, may access or otherwise utilize the file and print services and internet information services of the SOFTWARE PRODUCT, if included.
If the SOFTWARE PRODUCT is Windows 2000, you may use the SOFTWARE PRODUCT on a single COMPUTER as interactive workstation software, but not as server software. However, you may permit a maximum of ten (10) Devices to connect to the COMPUTER to access and use services of the SOFTWARE PRODUCT, such as file and print services and internet information services. The ten-connection maximum includes any indirect connections made through other software or hardware which pools or aggregates connections.
Contrast the Windows 2000 EULA with the "Privacy Notice" (not called a EULA because the software is (a) free for now; and (b) in the public beta development stage) for the brand-new Windows Live Writer blog authoring software. The Live Writer development team, in my view, knows how to write to their audience. Here is the Live Writer "Privacy Notice" in part:
1. What the Contract Covers.
This is a contract between you and the Microsoft company referenced in section 24. Sometimes Microsoft is referred to as “we,” “us” or “our”. This contract applies to any Windows Live or MSN software, products or services, including updates, that you use while this contract is in force. All of the software, products or services are referred to in this contract as the “service.”
Please note that we do not provide warranties for the service. The contract also limits our liability. These terms are in sections 15 and 16 and we ask you to read them carefully.
2. When You May Use the Service.
You may start using the service as soon as you have finished the sign-up process.
3. How You May Use the Service.
In using the service, you will:
- obey the law
- obey any codes of conduct or other notices we provide
- obey the Microsoft Anti-spam Policy, which is available at <http://privacy.msn.com/anti-spam/default.asp>
- keep your service account password secret
- promptly notify us if you learn of a security breach related to the service
I installed Microsoft Vista Business on my computer last night and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Vista EULA was cast in much more user-friendly language than in the EULAs of any previous Microsoft software products I've ever used. Read more about the specifics of the Vista EULA at Paul Thurott's Supersite for Windows.
Unfortunately, I forgot to scan the EULA when I installed Microsoft Office 2007 Plus on my computers—readers, would any of you please be so kind as to help me out on this? How's the EULA language on that product?
Note that in this blog post I am not concerned with the specific content of the EULA; surely, there are plenty of Windows power users who are up-in-arms about some of the license restrictions Microsoft has placed on the usage of their Vista operating system versions.
Rather, I'm just happy as heck that the Microsoft product development teams have taken the time to loosen up the language a bit so that we laypeople can understand the rules a little bit easier. Obviously Microsoft, and any software company, needs to protect their intellectual property and "cover their bases" legally. That is the purpose of the EULA. Again, the user does not 'own' the software. He or she simply pays for the right to install and use the product. Oh—forgot to mention this earlier. You already know this, probably, but time- or scope-limited technical support is oftentimes another perquisite that purchasing you software license affords you.
How do I know all this? I worked for a software company as a content developer for a handful of years, and I still do contract work for a couple of other software development firms. Moreover, my family and I have felt the financial "sting" of having my work stolen through software piracy and users' intentional/unintentional disregard for those "cryptic," "meaningless," or "bullshit" EULAs. Needless to say, I am a big advocate of what Microsoft is doing now with their easier-to-read license agreements.