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The Trouble with Vista

February 1, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Example 4: Software Protection Platform. Windows Vista ushers in the newest generation of Microsoft DRM for Windows: Software Protection Platform. After years of playing around with this, Microsoft's full solution is in place, because SPP finally adds the stick. Once SPP determines you have an illicit copy of Vista installed, you have 30 days to pay up, by buying (or re-buying) your copy of Vista. If you do not comply within that time frame, SPP places your Vista computer in what Microsoft calls "reduced functionality mode." The only thing you can do in this state is launch your Web browser for the purpose of paying up and getting a valid product key.

After one hour in reduced functionality mode, Vista automatically logs out the user, without recourse. You can log back in immediately for another hour, but unless you decide to pay up, your computer becomes virtually useless to you. There is no Start menu, there are no desktop icons, and the desktop background is changed to black in reduced functionality mode. (For more details on how SPP works, see The Skinny on Windows SPP and Reduced Functionality in Vista.)

I don't want to overstate this problem. It's likely that most people whose computers are trapped by SPP will, in fact, have pirated copies of Vista. But some portion of those people will have no idea that they do, or why they do, or even who to turn to. And most likely, some very small portion of that group will be people on whose machines Vista's SPP has falsely tagged their copy as being invalid. There never was a perfect piece of software, and SPP is not the first shining example of perfection.

Microsoft has already made ardent enemies of previously more or less happy Windows users through the use of its previous-generation antipiracy measures, Windows Genuine Advantage, Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications and Windows Product Activation. What would you do if you bought a new computer from a major PC maker or retailer and then were notified by a dialog box that your computer's copy of Windows is invalid? It's happened to a lot of people. And for Microsoft, it's all about making money. The customer focus is gone.

Example 5: Vista pricing. Speaking of making money at the expense of users, Microsoft's pricing scheme for Vista is clearly aimed at upping the ante by charging the most demanding users a lot more money for a copy of Windows. Windows Vista Ultimate, the only version that contains all the high-end digital home media features and all the high-end enterprise features, has a $259 upgrade list price and a $399 full-install list price. That's a lot of money for an operating system these days.

Brass Tacks

When all is said and done, it's not that I don't like Vista. It's that I've lost faith in Microsoft to deal in an evenhanded way with end users and corporate buyers of its software. Large enterprises will be the least affected by these problems, but we should not discount the fact that some of the things above -- and others like them -- will bite corporate end users, cause IT departments additional help desk costs and possibly even reduce employee productivity.

Despite the welcome improvements in Vista, using the product just isn't exciting or intriguing any longer. It's at least two years later than it should have been, and I don't absolutely have to have it. You don't either.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct a factual error. Microsoft does require you to have Windows XP or 2000 installed on your PC in order to use the upgrade version of Vista, but you do not have to activate the previous version of Windows.

Scot Finnie is Computerworld's online editorial director.

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