Bill is watching you

by Volker Weber


They must send these updates out in batches. Some of my machines were notified early last week, yet this one only got it today.

Either way, I fully support Big Brother Bill. For a product that people criticise so much, there's an awful lot of pirates out there.

It's ¢80, not exactly a bank breaker on top of the cost of a PC.

Ben Rose, 2006-05-08

Ben, you are missing the point.
This is not about getting people who "pirate" their software.
It's about spying on and policing their existing customer base.
What's next? Activation of "Genuine Windows Vista" with your DNA Sample?

Karsten W. Rohrbach, 2006-05-08

Karsten, don't forget that Ben prefers companies who charge money -- witness his rants about Skype and Firefox ;o)

Ben Poole, 2006-05-08

It should be noted that there are other applications with far more strict licensing schemes. See Photoshop and others. See lots of number crunching and CAD software.

While I don't like any of those licensing enforcement systems and avoid buying such software, the Windows licensing enforcement is rather tame compared to what is the norm in other parts of the IT industry.

Hanno Müller, 2006-05-08

The wretched way MS controls "their" software, fiddles with the usual troubleshooting routine one needs to get it going in the first place.

Adding to the pain of having to rip out every single card in order to get a machine in working status again, when something goes amiss (anybody here heard the word IRQ before?), their hellish registration process adds anger to discontent.

They assume, it´s a different machine "their" software runs on. Yes, it is: it is a WORKING machine. MS´s assumptions are killing time and time again. Users precious time.

To quote a famous saying ;-) "Speak after me: F***(rustrat)ing the user is bad for business." Not even if it´s a 80 Pound business. Obnoxious.

I´d rather give one pound of flesh, than pay that from my pocket. Well, if my company pays for it, that´s another question, but I do use my Mac in the office. It simply works. That´s what I expect. If I foul up the system, it´s my task to regulate it. No calling on Apple necessary, thank you.

Armin Roth, 2006-05-08

@ Karsten

I fail to see what everyone has to hide. My credit card company knows every I shop and my Tesco Clubcard knows everything I buy including my brand of toilet roll and what breakfast cereal I eat. I really don't care.

People who have nothing to hide should have no issue with anything validating what you are legally required to have. It's like people who break the law complaining about speed cameras, all they do is enforce the law. Their problem isn't with speed cameras, it's with the law.

@Ben Poole

I don't prefer people who charge money, I prefer more usable products. Time is the most precious commodity in the world and I need something that works the best. Skype works reasonably well, but slows my other stuff down by consuming bandwidth. It also doesn't integrate properly (at all) with other standard VoIP systems. As a result, it's a waste of time.

Firefox's latest version is better, I tested it. To get it to the level of functionality of my chosen Avant Browser required 6 extensions and even then it didn't work with all the websites I read. I don't care why, I'm just a consumer and as such either it works or it doesn' doesn't.

@Hanno - I agree, MS could supply a hardware dongle for Windows/office...they don't.

@Armin - I have never EVER had an issue with MS Activation. It works well.

Ben Rose, 2006-05-08

check the Gripe Wiki entry and re-think your definition of wretched ;-) And remember – we are talking about operating systems here, not application software.

I couldn't agree more with you. The real cost in running Windows based client networks lies in total operating cost (vs. TCO as proclaimed by MS). More folks need to read the fine print.

Ben (Rose),
you are totally missing the point, again. It's not about you or me not having done any bad. It is about trust. And Microsoft certainly is not trusting you or me, according to their (normally not hidden) installation of a program which cannot be uninstalled according to their license, so why should I trust them more than you are trusting the skype guys?

It's a matter of "reverse antitrust", so to say.

Karsten W. Rohrbach, 2006-05-08

so, summing it up: MS is making one client happy with their control-system. Good day for them for a change. Ben, live long and prosper, so you can stay a happy camper.

But, be careful with the "I´ve-nothing-to-hide"-argument in a country that has already had Gestapo/Stasi experience. Information in the hands of whom? Actually, this is exactly why I don´t have a payback-card, although it´s benefits are intriguing.

If somebody not well meaning (not assuming this is MS) had my account number, credit-card numbers, whereabouts, credentials, in today´s world even fingerprint (not to speak about my movements on the street (speaking of London, you know, what I mean), applying ubiquitous fingerpriont readers on notebooks nowadays - what am I good for anyway?

I might be an unnecessary nuisance to this somebody...

Armin Roth, 2006-05-08

There is only one reason MS has keys in their software and that is lack of viable competition.

If Linux was viable on the dekstop, and Linux was gaining significant Desktop share, Microsoft would remove theses keys.

The keys were introduced because the OS market is dominated by Microsoft with very little growth. To make more money MS needs to sell more OS. They can't convert users from other OS's as there aren't any, so the only way they can increase revenue is to remove any pirated copies in use out there and have people pay for them.

Carl Tyler, 2006-05-08


The fact is, Microsoft are saying that there are many people in the world who _can't_ be trusted. I agree.

It's not saying who those people are and certainly not saying the dishonest people are you or me, just saying there is dishonesty and they are trying to reduce it.

Perfectly within their rights in their opinion.

I don't really distrust Skype, I just don't like what it does to my machine. If I distrusted them, I would have disconnected long ago when I realised they keep my chat histories on their server.

Ben Rose, 2006-05-08


I agree you're somewhat right.

For years, the only access nearly all households had to PCs was at work or by a work provided machine. The vast majority of these machines were legally licensed.

Since the internet and every getting online, many homes now have a PC and they're using illegal MS software to do it. Software borrowed from work or friends. MS has been clamping down on this for a while, they added keys to work software for example. Beforehand any burned copy of an MS Select Office or Windows CD worked on any machine. Now you need the Volume License Key (VLK).

The VLK is trackable to the company that provided it so illegal software leaks can be traced. I'm happy for MS to police their own systems and report to the authorities as necessary.

Ben Rose, 2006-05-08

I am happy too. I helps me convert Windows 2000 machines to Ubuntu.

Volker Weber, 2006-05-08

Karsten said:

The real cost in running Windows based client networks lies in total operating cost (vs. TCO as proclaimed by MS).

Totally true. In a large environment you could almost disregard the acquisition costs of hardware and software. The operating costs within three or four years depending on the complexity of the implementation and your organisation could easily be the 90-95% of total operating costs.

There is an overwhelming high potential for optimization of IT services out there. MS technology is definetly one of the cost drivers. The other is very often incompetence of IT personell.

Cem Basman, 2006-05-08

As a paying customer with nothing to hide, I prefer Microsoft to use its finite resources to improve its product and develop features that benefit me rather than waste my time and system resources for its own benefit.

Josh Humphrey, 2006-05-08

Software piracy is by default not okay, but in a world with free software it is especially stupid. Buying proprietary software and having one's rights stripped off isn't exactly a good idea, breaking the law to have one's rights stripped off is even worse. BTW, OpenOffice, KDE and many others accept donations.

Philipp Sury, 2006-05-08

To go slightly off-topic for a minute, I’m not sure what Ben R means re Skype chat history. Per the privacy FAQ:

Skype archives your chats for you and stores them locally on your computer, if you have enabled this option. Chat histories are not stored anywhere on the network. In other words, no one else on Skype will ever be able to see any of your chat histories except you and the person you are chatting with. Chats are archived as a convenience to you, so that you can easily keep track of your chat conversations on Skype.


Ben Poole, 2006-05-08

To answer Ben P:

Ignoring the Skype documentation, here's my story.

I installed Skype on one of my home machines and had an IM conversation with somebody. It warned me that chat history was enabled. Not a problem, I use this option on other IM clients.

So, at this point I believed my chat conversation was stored on my PC which I shut down and powered off.

I go to work and install Skype for the very first time on that machine and login with my Skype ID.

When my remote contact initiated conversation with my later that day there, before my very eyes, was the chat history I had had on a different machine, on a different network. How did the chat history get from my home machine to my office machine with the home machine being disconnected and powered off.

This didn't concern me, they can monitor my conversations all they like, but I did note it for future reference.

Ben Rose, 2006-05-08

they can monitor my conversations all they like

So what is your problem with Skype then? That you cannot properly firewall your computer?

Volker Weber, 2006-05-08

Ben Rose: The Skype client stores the chat history of two people on _both_ computers that were involved in the chat. Strangely enough, if you open your account on another computer, your conversation partner's skype client will send his chat history to your client.


Person A on computer 1 and person B on computer 2 chat with each other.

Person A turns off computer 1.

Person A starts skype client on computer 3 with his account A.

Person B is still online with computer 2, on which their chat was stored.

Computer 2 will now send the old chat to computer 3 to synchronize their chat history.

No central server and no surveillance involved.

Nevertheless, a pretty useless feature, if you ask me. And quite annoying if you use multiple computers. Also quite annoying if you use the "show as offline" feature, the clients will synchronize with each other, anyway. That way, you leak your online info even if you don't want to.

Hanno Müller, 2006-05-08

Karsten: I've seen software with weirder protection methods in the past, including operating systems. Doesn't Apple use some funky things to make sure you don't install their OS on non-sanctioned hardware?

I guess that Volker's main complaint is not that MS tries to enforce their licensing, but that its license enforcement software phones home. Then again, I doubt that Apple users would complain if Apple's OS did that.

Hanno Müller, 2006-05-08

Bill Gates and Microsoft have every right to protect their product from piracy. If people don't want to pay for it, there's plenty of free Linux systems out there. I'm a former Windows pirate because I thought I was "sticking it" to Microsoft, but I realized that I was just making their marketshare even bigger. I've been completely free of Microsoft for 2 months on an Ubuntu system, and there's nothing I can't do here that I did on Windows. MP3/WMV/etc don't work out of the box, but with a little research and help from the Ubuntu wiki and forums, I've gotten everything to work.

I don't think Microsoft has a monopoly on the desktop anymore. There's plenty of ways to avoid it if you're a home user. Business users might have a little more trouble though.

Chris Spejcher, 2006-05-09

Plus, you get the added benefit, that you don't need a Genuince Spy on your computer. ;-)

Volker Weber, 2006-05-09

Hanno, Philip Storry presents an interesting and worrying perspective ...

What if illegal files are being transferred through your machine?

Ben Rose, 2006-05-09

Can we get some knowledge into the discussion instead of piling on even more speculation? Your "when I realised they keep my chat histories on their server" has already been debunked. You may want to turn to Google to find out how easy it is to prevent your system from ever providing service as a supernode.

Volker Weber, 2006-05-09

Ben (Rose), what makes you think that someone would be willing to use Skype as a transport for illegal content in the first place? While technically feasible it's exactly the oppsite of what warez distributors would be looking for. What they need is a fat pipe where data can run *fast*. Skype on the other hand is about conserving bandwith, only using the minimum amount absolutelty neccessary to transmit the voice data. Now, that I already mentioned it: Skype is optimized for voice transmission. This (as is true for SIP btw.) means that it'll use UDP for transmissions. As UDP is a protocol that doesn't ensure data integrity (and doesn't have to for voice transmissions) it'd be among the worst choices to pick for sending files. Now please, don't start with the possibility of file transfers through the Skype client. Those are - except for some very rare cases - direct connections between the sender and the receiver.
And as an aside: Please do me the favor and stop calling SIP a proper VoIP protocol. That's exactly what SIP never was and never will be. It's a VoIP protocol, alright. But a proper protocol is something *completely* different. As a matter of fact, SIP as a protocol is a nightmare as is true for the different implementations used by the various SIP providers.

Stefan Rubner, 2006-05-09

Clearly my concerns are not shared by many, that's fine.

All I need now is to find where I can delete my Skype ID...oh...I can't. There's even a help page telling me that I can't.

One wonders whether they have the millions of users they claim or whether millions of people just created an ID to try it once.

Still, that's just speculation except in one case...I have a Skype ID, I can't delete it, it still exists and I don't use it any more.

Ben Rose, 2006-05-09

Ben, why would you want to delete your Skype ID in the first place? To make it easier for imposters to take over your virtual identity? I don't think so.

Stefan Rubner, 2006-05-09

My Skype ID is linked to my name and my email address. It's personal data, I'm entitled to remove it.

Ben Rose, 2006-05-09

After hearing a very interesting talk by Johan Galtung today about the demise of U.S. imperialism in the next years, I'd conjecture that Microsoft is setting up their foundation to structural violence on/over their consumer base in a totally new and "improved" manner.

Farmer says: "Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social progress."

Which is exactly what MS' mindset and worldview is all about, if you think about it — or why, do you think, do they ask to "insert the medium in drive D:" instead of to "put the CD into the drive" in 2006? Or why they charge obnoxious amounts of money for their broken programming toolchain? Are they captured in a feedback loop? ;-)

All jokes aside, Apple would probably do something along that line, too. But with a different style, I guess. And — obviously — they simply don't have enough market share to exercise such force.

…just some quick and unfiltered ideas in the morning. Don't take them too seriously — or do — it's your choice ;-)

Karsten W. Rohrbach, 2006-05-09

Ben, you sure seem to have some difficulties learning ... ;-)

Volker Weber, 2006-05-09

Ben (Rose), while not being able to *delete* your Skype profile you're perfectly free to edit it as you like. So that gives you the opportunity to remove the email address and other personal info that might be in there. So I completely fail to see your point. Even if Skype would allow you to *delete* your ID, what they'd most likely do is *not* deleting it but instead marking it as "no longer in use, not to be reused again". It's just that they'd make it look to you as if it would be deleted. At least that's what any company I've been working for did with accounts so that they weren't available for imposters.

Stefan Rubner, 2006-05-09

@Karsten - "All jokes aside, Apple would probably do something along that line, too. But with a different style, I guess. And — obviously — they simply don't have enough market share to exercise such force."

If Apple did something like MS, they would make it so you could only use the downloaded software on the machine you downloaded it on with their rights management installed, and not licence their rights management to any other platform but their own.

MS charge the domestic consumer ¢80 for Windows's not a lot of money at all compared to other alternatives. It's more than Linux, but Linux won't play proper games and neither will OSX.

I don't understand why so many PC gamers will happily pay ¢40-50 a game yet refuse to pay ¢80 for the OS that makes their hardware work.

Ben Rose, 2006-05-09

Good question. Maybe because they get it "for free" with their computer? And then cannot fix it when it breaks, because they don't get the operating system CD but only a "restore" CD? And then they cannot use a real Windows CD with their license number because that is tied to the restore CD?

It's Microsoft who creates the problem. Why do they fuck the customer in the first place?

Volker Weber, 2006-05-09

In my experience, restore CDs work very well and restore the machine to "out of the box" condition without much of an issue.

The only issue I see is when the consumer has thrown the restore CD in the bin. If they throw software in the bin, they should expect to have to buy another one.

Yes, PCs break. So do cars and washing machines and central-heating boilers. For those, we pay a professional to fix them...why should PCs be any different? Why do people expect to be able to fix their own PC when they wouldn't dream of lifting the bonnet on their car but to add screenwash?

If a piece of consumer electronics like a DVD player or a television or, dare I say it, a Powerbook breaks within the warranty period they will first check one thing. Do you have a receipt? Do you have proof of purchase?

This MS licensing is just that...did you pay (directly or indirectly) for your software. If not, the manufacturer isn't going to honour your warranty and give you maintenance updates.

Ben Rose, 2006-05-09

In my experience, restore CDs work very well

Then your experience is very different from our experience.

Volker Weber, 2006-05-09

Point One: Mostly I don't want the Restore CD to restore the the computer to the factory state. I want a fresh Windows installation, not Windows plus what-the-vendor-thinks-is-cool on top. More than one partition on a freshly restored ThinkPad? Get a life.

Point Two: I totally agree with Volker - it's the license policy that ruins it all. Tying the media and license no together causes nothing but trouble... MS forced me to reinstall all my machines that way recently. I have all the licenses for my German installation media, but I happen to prefer English OSs - these two don't go together at all. I won't go into further details here...

Now I have German windows machines again - properly licensed as Redmond likes to see them. Thank you, Windows Genuine ADVANTAGE(?)

Frank Dröge, 2006-05-09

Boy oh boy, what have you guys got against Ben Rose today?

I happen to like and use Skype a lot, but do share Ben's concerns regarding Skype's privacy and bandwidth use policies. Why are you all taking his comments to pieces rather than treating it as his opinion which he has a right to express.


Stuart McIntyre, 2006-05-09

I've got nothing against Ben, he's an entertaining writer and fully within his rights to express his opinion (on that note I don't understand why he gave up!)

However, I don't understand the privacy concerns with Skype. So far, everything I've read has been baseless. The comments about Skype chat history and using Skype as a "relay" for illicit file transfers are, at best, ill-informed.

(Actually, does anyone use Skype to do transfers? Takes AGES! :o) )

As for M$, they don't need apologists. If you can't see that certain large organisations are taking the piss (I'm not just singling out MS here), then you're naive to say the least.

Ben Poole, 2006-05-09

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