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Front Page » June 20, 2006 » Tech Tips » Software Licenses, Part 2
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Software Licenses, Part 2

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As computer software has grown and evolved with time, so has the licenses that govern their use. In fact, software licenses have become so complex that many lawyers now specialize in the subject. Naturally, computer users need to be familiar with the terms and conditions that apply to the software that comes with their computer, especially the operating system. Trends are changing and consumers need to know that these changes are taking place.

Most consumers buy a computer that comes bundled with a pre-installed operating system (which is often called an "Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)" version). Often, this operating system could only be transferred to another computer if it was uninstalled from the first computer. In other words, the license traditionally entitles the user to one concurrent installation at a time.

However, licenses for many modern operating systems are changing from more traditional models. Microsoft's and Apple's licenses for their most recent offerings deviate, in many respects, from prior products.

Microsoft, for example, changed its licensing when it released Windows XP, which requires it be "registered" or "activated" after so many days following installation on the computer. If the registration process does not take place within the given period, the computer will deny the user access to the computer. The user must then register the computer (activate their Windows XP installation) with Microsoft or remove Windows XP from the computer. This has to be redone every time Windows XP is re-installed on the PC.

If, during the registration process (which usually occurs via an Internet connection), Microsoft's registration system thinks you may have a pirated serial number, or that the serial number has been used on more than one computer, it will mark the serial number as potentially invalid and deny activation. Without activation, once the grace period expires, the computer will deny the user access to the computer. In this case, the issue must be resolved directly with Microsoft or Windows XP must be uninstalled or removed from the computer.

OEM versions of Windows XP (that came bundled with the computer from the manufacturer) might not be transferable to another computer. Serial numbers for many OEM versions of Windows XP are physically tied to the computer and cannot be used on any other computer system, even if it is uninstalled first. This will cause concerns for consumers who figure they can save some money by not buying a new copy of Windows XP with a new computer, because they figure they can use their copy of Windows XP from their old computer.

Retail copies of Windows XP (i.e. purchased separately from the computer from a retailer), however, are transferable as long as it is properly uninstalled from the prior computer. Registration after installation (activation) is still required, but the serial number won't be permanently tied to the computer.

Apple's Unix-based operating system, OS-X, is licensed a little differently than Windows XP. Many have speculated that the PC (x86) version of OS-X (which comes bundled with Apple's Intel-based (PC) computers (dubbed "mactels") that were unveiled last year) will install on any PC. Such rumors are untrue. The PC version of OS-X will only install on Apple PCs.

However, unlike Windows XP, Apple's OS-X can be transferred to other Apple computers of the same hardware platform (as long as it is uninstalled from the prior computer and hardware requirements are met) - meaning that the PC (x86) version can be installed on any other Apple PC (x86) computer, and the PPC version can be installed on any other PPC Apple computer (again, as long as OS-X is properly uninstalled from the prior computer).

Many operating systems, like the open-source GNU/Linux, can be installed on an unlimited number of computers, and can often be downloaded free of charge. Novell's OpenSUSE, Red Hat's Fedora and Mandriva Linux are good examples.

No matter what operating system you choose, be sure to read the license agreement that accompanies it. Make sure you understand what the terms and conditions of the license are. Ensure that you comply with that license. If you cannot abide by the terms and conditions of the license, then the software should be quickly removed or uninstalled. If such a violation becomes a legal issue for you, ignorance won't count.

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