Microsoft to Force Upgrade

Jan 4, 1996

BY EDWARD JEFFRIES
FPI


REDMOND, WA - In a move that has astonished the industry, Microsoft has announced its intention to suspend the right of customers to use versions of its Windows operating system software prior to Windows 95. This suspension will take effect at 12:01 AM on March 1, 1996.

"The effort to support both Windows-95 and earlier versions has been more arduous than forseen," said a Microsoft spokesperson. "While we understand the inconvenience this may cause, our ability to deliver quality products and service to our customers in the future will be greatly enhanced by taking Windows 3.1 and earlier out of the picture."

But consumer groups and industry observers have blasted the move as outrageous. "I'm stunned," said Ralph Nader, long-time consumer advocate. "I have never seen anything like this before. The idea that a company could force its customers to throw away their property is repugnant beyond description."

The controversy surrounds a document called a software license agreement, a legal contract that comes with nearly every copy of software sold through retail channels. Such contracts specify a wide array of terms and restrictions limiting how the purchaser may use the software.

Legal analysts for years have been scrutinizing "shrinkwrap licenses," so named for their being enclosed within the clear plastic shrinkwrap packaging surrounding retail software. The agreements themselves have been around for years, attached to millions of programs. However, up until now, no one has ever taken them seriously.

Microsoft asserts that it is well within its rights to revoke permission to use its software, citing clauses in the license agreement that comes with all the company's products. The agreement states that Microsoft may, upon delivering written notice, terminate the purchaser's right to use the software at any time. The document further asserts that the purchaser is not entitled to a refund when the license is terminated.

"There are serious questions concerning the enforceability of such an agreement," said Mike Godwin, legal counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Chief among these are whether a company like Microsoft can impose terms and conditions on a retail sale after the fact." Since no such agreements are ever read or signed before the software is purchased, Godwin believes that a court would hold the agreement to be invalid. "I'd throw the case out in a second."

This liklihood, however, has not slowed Windows users everywhere from expressing near-universal outrage at the move, setting the world-wide Internet ablaze with vitriol. Writes one upset user, "I've paid a total of over five hundred f---ing dollars for Windows and upgrades over the years, and now they expect me to just throw it away? What's Bill been smoking up there?" Another user writes, "This so called 'agreement' is garbage... I paid for the program, I have the receipt; it's mine."

Not so, says Microsoft: "What the user has actually bought is the right to use the software, subject to the terms of the agreement," said a Microsoft legal representative. "The software itself remains the property of Microsoft."

Since nearly all computer software today is purchased through normal retail channels, Microsoft was asked how users knew they had entered into a contract without signing anything. "The agreement clearly states that any use of the software is a positive indication that the customer has read, understands, and agrees to be bound by the terms of the contract," said Microsoft's lawyer. "We are simply exercising our rights under the agreement, which the customer agreed to when they installed the software."

When asked how a user might voice objection to the agreement's terms, Microsoft's lawyer responded: "If any part of the agreement is not to their liking, they can return the software to the place of purchase for a full refund." Microsoft went on to state that, as a rule, it does not negotiate license terms with individual users. "The drain on our department would be staggering if we did that."

The move has sparked a flurry of calls by panicked users to other software publishers who also enclose license agreements with their products. Adobe Systems in Mountain View, CA, reports receiving over ten thousand calls over the last 24 hours. Microsoft's arch-rival, Netscape Communications, is rumored to be considering removing its agreement from its products entirely. Though declining official comment, a source requesting anonymity said that, "We never really needed the agreement. Copyright and trademark law already protect our rights."

According to Microsoft, on March 1, 1996, all licenses to use versions of Windows prior to Windows-95 will be terminated, and users will be required to delete the software from their machine. Individuals for whom this would cause extreme hardship may apply to Microsoft to receive a one-year extension to their existing license for a modest fee.

"This is bull----," wrote John Gilmore, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, on an Internet message forum. "Tomorrow I'm deleting every copy of Windows in this building and installing LINUX."

"What's truly irksome is that someone somewhere is going to have to go bankrupt fighting this in court," said Leo Schwab, a senior software engineer in Redwood City, CA. "This really sucks."


This is a work of fiction. Any similarities between events or persons depicted above and actual events or persons is entirely conincidental.

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Copyright © 1996 Leo L. Schwab. All Rights Reserved.

Leo L. Schwab / Digital Spellweaver / ewhac@best.com