One of the most common problems we run into at the computer recycling project are systems with non-genuine Windows software installed. We hear a lot of stories: the computers given as gifts, bought from some character who is not around anymore, or just picked up off the curb. Whatever the case may be we see a lot of systems that come in with non-genuine Windows installs that are just infested with malware.
In the case where someone has malware and a system with genuine Windows we normally attempt a restore, or if the restore is also infected a clean-up (usually involving safe mode, msconfig, registry editing) or in the worst case a reinstall if the person has made the proper recovery discs.
But the scenario above is the exception, not what normally happens. Normally we see systems with no Certificate Of Authenticity (COA – the sticker on the side/bottom with the Windows license and key) and a non-genuine Windows installation. When we’re faced with this situation we explain there are really only 3 choices for re-installation:
- The person must go somewhere else and buy a full legal license for Windows (COA and media shrinkwrapped, we don’t accept COAs ripped off of other systems – it’s not legitimate)
- We can install Ubuntu Linux or another Linux distribution of their choosing.
- Take their machine back (we do nothing)
In the 6 years of managing the Computer Recycling project only 1 person has ever opted for option #1. That person legitimately went out and bought a shrink-wrapped boxed Windows XP Home set (and he probably overpaid). What makes this even more remarkable is that I know for a fact that the person really would have had to stretch his budget to make the purchase. Almost all of the people we’ve seen in the same situation were in a better financial situation. The overwhelming majority do not understand how Windows licensing works (or pretend not to). So for the record here is Microsoft’s ruling on Windows licensing:
- [PDF] Microsoft Licensing Guide
The guide states:
A new Windows license is not required for a refurbished PC that has:
(1) The original Certificate of Authenticity (COA) for a Windows operating system affixed to the PC, and
(2) The original recovery media or hard-disk based recovery image associated with the PC.
The second point is where a lot of people fall down, most people do not have the original recovery media. It can be requested from the OEM, if there’s an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM – like Dell, Lenovo, HP). But sometimes the OEMs want to recharge the original cost of the licensing for the plastic CD.
It’s this second point we’re not so fond of, and apparently Microsoft’s own technical support disagrees with: About a year ago we had a gentleman who came in with a notebook he bought in a different province. The notebook was improperly licensed. He had a legitimate Windows XP Professional COA and Windows XP Professional was installed, but refused to activate correctly. When we called Microsoft’s Support line in an attempt to get some answers about the activation the support person suggested we “borrow a CD from a friend.” When we asked if it was legal to do so the response was “borrow a CD from a friend.” Because we really didn’t want to do anything illegal we asked again stating that we wouldn’t want to jeopardize our relationship with Microsoft we again got the response “borrow a CD from a friend.” We ended up telling him to call Toshiba and request a restore CD. But this incident demonstrates that even people working for Microsoft’s technical support felt the licensing conditions were not very fair.
The other problem with not having restore media involves licensing for Microsoft Office. It’s also something a large number of people seem to assume comes with all computers (in fact editions usually range from $90CDN student specials to $659.99CDN for Microsoft Office Professional. When Microsoft Office comes with a system, the version installed is often a trial version that only lasts so many days before it needs to be purchased. Very rarely does a computer come with a non-trial version of Microsoft Office (and in that case the computer is usually priced well over $1000).
People are sometimes very upset to learn that we can not help them illegally install Windows. Explaining licensing isn’t a fun job. We’ve been enforcing those standards for a long time, but I’m starting to think we need to create a flyer not only explaining the terms in brief, but also providing a Microsoft phone number for clients to call an get the low down on Microsoft Licensing direct from the source. We enforce the licensing, but we don’t make it. We’re happy to help people, but ultimately people should be talking with Microsoft about Windows licensing if they don’t like the terms.