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Microsoft Patents the Crippling of Operating Systems 394

Posted by kdawson
from the can't-have-just-anybody-writing-software-no-sir dept.
theodp writes "On Tuesday, Microsoft was granted US Patent No. 7,536,726 (it was filed in 2005) for intentionally crippling the functionality of an operating system by 'making selected portions and functionality of the operating system unavailable to the user or by limiting the user's ability to add software applications or device drivers to the computer' until an 'agreed upon sum of money' is paid to 'unlock or otherwise make available the restricted functionality.' According to Microsoft, this solves a 'problem inherent in open architecture systems,' i.e., 'they are generally licensed with complete use rights and/or functionality that may be beyond the need or desire of the system purchaser.' An additional problem with open architecture systems, Microsoft explains, is that 'virtually anyone can write an application that can be executed on the system.' Nice to see the USPTO rewarding Microsoft's eight problem-solving inventors, including Linux killer (and antelope killer) Joachim Kempin, who's been credited with getting Microsoft hauled into federal court on antitrust charges." Sounds like the mechanism by which Microsoft sells one version of Vista to all users, and lets users upgrade to higher-tier flavors of the OS after cash changes hands.
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Microsoft Patents the Crippling of Operating Systems

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  • Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:43PM (#28017203) Homepage
    How can they patent this? Microsoft has all sorts of prior art.

    Oh, wait.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by master5o1 (1068594) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:54PM (#28017387) Homepage
      I suppose they're doing us a service with this patent. Now no one else can deliberately cripple their operating system. I suppose their motive was for that Max-3-Apps thing in the starter versions of 7.
      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by lorenlal (164133) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:10PM (#28017635)

        I suppose they're doing us a service with this patent. Now no one else can deliberately cripple their operating system. I suppose their motive was for that Max-3-Apps thing in the starter versions of 7.

        And didn't Vista have similar functionality?

        I'm very surprised that this got through. I believe I'm staring at pieces of prior art in the form of a pair of Hypervisors which 'unlock' features after entering a key (stating that I purchased it). These happen to compete against Microsoft's Hyper-V...

        I don't think that any real action will come of this particular patent. It smells to me like they're trying to justify some sort of innovation quota. I really can't see this being enforceable at all... But, I'm not the one arguing this in court either.

        • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

          by mccrew (62494) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:26PM (#28017881)

          The date on the patent application is 2005. Vista was released November 8, 2006. [wikipedia.org]

          • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

            by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:40PM (#28018099) Homepage Journal

            but vista had been under development for 8.

            hehe, it's STILL under developed...

        • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Chabo (880571) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:34PM (#28017971) Homepage Journal

          I believe I'm staring at pieces of prior art in the form of a pair of Hypervisors which 'unlock' features after entering a key (stating that I purchased it).

          I think this dates back to Doom and Quake, personally, possibly earlier.

          • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by HTH NE1 (675604) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @06:30PM (#28019553)

            I think this dates back to Doom and Quake, personally, possibly earlier.

            Doom and Quake aren't operating systems. The patent is narrowly scoped to apply only to operating systems. Microsoft can't use the patent against anyone other than an operating system provider.

            It has also been the case of mainframe computers to have their capabilities artificially restricted, but from my knowledge it was implemented in hardware, accessed by flipping a single DIP switch. The license agreement for the hardware bars the end user from manipulating this physical switch absent a license for the added functionality enabled by the switch. But that's not an operating system restriction either so also doesn't count as prior art.

            You might be able to argue for the last official version of GS/OS for the Apple IIgs as being prior art in that it shipped with Ethernet-supporting code in the binaries but without enabling it for end users. Unless they tailored their definition of an operating system to exclude GS/OS or something else disqualifies it (such as never being officially enabled that code outside of internal development of the never-shipped Apple IIgs Ethernet card AFAIK).

            IMO this is a business method patent that should not be patentable due to it being blatantly anti-competitive.

            • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

              by Radworker (227548) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @07:12PM (#28020053)

              A shareware OS hmm... it has been a few years but what about TSX32. http://www.sandh.com/os.htm ? It was distributed in the shareware channels back in the early nineties. It was crippled until you purchased a license if I recall correctly. I believe that would make it prior art.

      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by davester666 (731373) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:12PM (#28017663) Journal

        They just gave it a name: "Method and technique for getting user to pay money to continue accessing their data".

        If you received a phone call using this technique, the FBI would call it a ransom demand...

        • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

          by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:27PM (#28017913) Journal

          Phone calls can be traced. When I encrypt other peoples data, I prefer to be compensated with eGold.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Barny (103770)

            U BAI GOLD?

            Another one is the classic "office 2007 trial" that comes on laptops, it is of course the full PRO version of office, so unsuspecting people start using it, they use word, they might have their kids use powerpoint and excel too, but they will also use office Outlook for their mail, and in 60 days time, all their email is held hostage unless they buy the PRO version, whereas usually such users could stick with "home and student" which has mostly what kids and households need.

            That and the following

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Mister Whirly (964219)
              So your company chose to put the trial software on the systems that you sold, you fail to warn the "unsuspecting" customer that it is only trial software, the customer agrees to the terms and are told when launching the applications that it is trial software, and this is somehow Microsoft's fault?
              And now you are installing other third party software? Why not just let the customers decide which software they would like to use themselves? First thing I always do when buying a system from a shop (as opposed t
      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Dekker3D (989692) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:30PM (#28017945)
        they may not realize it, but they've really taken one for the team then. if they've got a patent on it, and they stay as greedy as they've always been, nobody else will be safe trying to pull the same stunt. up side: microsoft does something good for once down side: they didn't mean it that way
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jc42 (318812)

          if they've got a patent on it, and they stay as greedy as they've always been, nobody else will be safe trying to pull the same stunt.

          Nah; I don't think so. Do you really think that all the "smart phone" vendors are now going to start delivering unlocked phones? Not a chance. If Microsoft tries taking them to court, they'll simply countersue, prove in court that MS's management knew all about their locked systems when they filed for the patent, and the court will hand MS a huge fine for knowingly submit

      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Jurily (900488) <jurily&gmail,com> on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:32PM (#28017961)

        I suppose they're doing us a service with this patent. Now no one else can deliberately cripple their operating system.

        Why bother? Any artificial crippling will be removed by those meddling pirates anyway, from any OS. Remember the WGA check in XP? I've never seen it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Mad Merlin (837387)

          Remember the WGA check in XP? I've never seen it.

          Well neither have I, but I don't use Windows.

      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jc42 (318812) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @09:42PM (#28021093) Homepage Journal

        Now no one else can deliberately cripple their operating system. I suppose their motive was for that Max-3-Apps thing in the starter versions of 7.

        As others are no doubt pointing out, anyone who wants to challenge this in court can find lots of prior art. In the case of the limit to the number of running apps, this is quite similar to the gimmick that was in Sys/V unix two decades ago, which limited the number of simultaneous logins to 2 unless you paid them extra to change the byte that held the limit.

        Back around 1990 or so, I had a bit of fun with them. Due to problems diagnosing remote login problems, I wrote a login-like program which basically had the same functionality, but it had extensive builtin logging, so you could find out why a login was failing. The program worked as a drop-in replacement for the standard login program, but it missed one feature: It didn't honor the 2-user login limit. When users "complained" (heh!) about this, I pointed out (publicly in several forums) that I'd omitted it because I didn't know where the login limit was stored. I said that if the AT&T folks would tell me where it was hidden, I could add support for the login limit.

        For some reason, we never heard from them, and I was never able to add that feature. They probably figured out that I'd add it as an explicit command-line option, making it trivial for users to disable it if they liked. Also, they probably figured out that, since my program was open-source, anyone would be able to read my code to find out where the login limit was kept, and write their own little program to overwrite that byte.

        In any case, I worked on a number of projects where this stupid limit was one of the listed reasons for not using Sys/V as our platform. We generally thought that delivering a system so crippled and demanding money to fix it was simply tacky, and not something that we wanted to do to our customers. Sometimes I wonder what happened to Sys/V; I haven't seen it in years, and I don't recall reading of it being retired. Of course, it lives on as POSIX, more or less, but the implementations don't use any AT&T (or SCO?) code, so we don't see such limit in the unix part of the industry any more.

        (Or do we? Are some vendors still doing such tacky things to their customers? Other than Microsoft, of course.)

    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

      by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy.gmail@com> on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:00PM (#28017499)

      How can they patent this? Microsoft has all sorts of prior art.

      Forget Microsoft. Enterprise (software and hardware) vendors have been doing this for decades.

      Heck, anyone who has even a passing familiarity with "enterprise" infrastructure like SANs will be familiar with paying tens of thousands for a piece of paper with a license key printed on it to, say, unlock the other 32 ports on their Fibre Switch.

      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by suso (153703) * on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:06PM (#28017587) Homepage Journal

        Oh totally. Until I started working in an enterprise 4 years ago, I had no idea how big of an industry there is for ripping off large companies.

        * $1500 for a 500GB SATA2 hard drive
        * $60,000/year for a search engine
        * About the same for a web analysis program
        * $1,000,000 for a 40TB SAN
        * $6000 for a KVM that sucks and $100 a dongle.

        And that's not even getting into what I've seen the Windows admins go through.

      • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ArsonSmith (13997) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @05:02PM (#28018417) Journal

        This isn't limited to software either. Here's one I'm just familiar with:

        the YJ Jeep (years 88-96) came with the option of a 19 gallon gas tank. Standard was ~12 gallons. They found it was cheaper to make one gas tank and the standard one had a tube attached to it that would make the pump think it was full at 12 gallons. You can get around this by "topping off" for several minutes while you pump another 7 gallons into a full tank, or you can disassemble the inlet and remove the tube, (about 2" round 8" long) from just under the inlet area. By not taking the upgrade you are actually getting more parts.

        PS. if you own one of these jeeps and want to do it google for it you should be able to find a nice pictorial howto

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by rcharbon (123915)

          A LOOOONG time ago,I bought a $19.95 4 function Radio Shack Calculator. RS had a similar calculator with additional memory functions for an extra $20. By cutting holes in the case, I gained access to the memory function keys, thus saving 50%.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by al0ha (1262684)
      Cool - does this mean Microsoft will go after malware developers who create a nuclear option or develop trojans which encrypt data and hard drives as a method of extortion? These certainly break Microsoft's newly awarded patent.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

      by icebike (68054) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:24PM (#28017857)

      Hello Verizon? Can you hear me now?

      Verizon (and others) have been crippling features in phone OS's and charging to turn them back on for years.

      http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/09/02/1755207 [slashdot.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Evil Pete (73279)

      Ha ha ... Yeah my thoughts exactly. But to be fair to MS they aren't the first company to lockout parts of an OS until money has been coughed up. I think the difference is that this time it is designed to do this ... sorry just couldn't help myself.

    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

      by okmijnuhb (575581) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @07:42PM (#28020315)
      Excellent, they finally patented the BSOD.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mista2 (1093071)

      Umm, IBM ship PowerPC blades with multiple CPUs' on them, and have most of them disabled untill licences are paid to activate them, giving the systems a down-time-free upgrade on demand.
      Great if you are a start up, and you have your pilot webserver, then the next week demand jumps, so you just pay to unlock more CPUs'.

      I think this patement sounds again like a patent for the frikken-obvious!

  • "Microsoft, Crippling Operating Systems Since 2005..."
  • by VincenzoRomano (881055) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:45PM (#28017233) Homepage Journal
    They would rule the world with such a patent granted.
  • There may be prior art for this in the mainframe or embedded-systems world.

    Anyone think of anything?

    • There may be prior art for this in the mainframe or embedded-systems world.

      Anyone think of anything?

      Hell, there are examples of prior art all over the place. Plenty of old shareware, for example. Pay $x to have levels or features unlocked.

      Of course, I DNRTFA, or the patent, so there's probably a ton of reasons that wouldn't apply as prior art.

    • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:26PM (#28017887) Journal

      There may be prior art for this in the mainframe or embedded-systems world.

      The term of art is "feature protection". It's as old as mainframes.

      (I believe it was a Univac where the difference between two models was a jumper that adjusted the clock rate. The info got out to the customers and one salesman was really embarrassed when he brought a prospective customer to an existing installation for a demo. The customer asked if he wanted to see it running as this model or that, pulling open a door and reaching for the jumper...)

      One mainframe company I worked for put out a machine with multiple CPUs in it. The extras served as switch-in spares or for field upgrades if the customer paid to enable 'em.

      It isn't just a "cheat" to get more money from the customers. On some devices (like printers) running at a higher speed increases the wear and the resulting maintenance requirements. Similarly, in the CPU case, running more CPUs increases the heating and shortens the life, while having less spares shortens the time until / increases the probability that you actually have to pull something out and replace it.

      Making a single model and selling it as multiple levels using feature protection may be a lot less expensive (especially on high-dollar, low-volume products) than engineering multiple models. This benefit can be split between the manufacturer and the customers. It also makes upgrades a lot cheaper and less disruptive for both the customer and the company.

      In software licensing it's been around since license manager software and dongles: Pay for more seats or more functions, they get turned on.

      What's so special about doing it for OSes?

  • Who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by greywire (78262) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:47PM (#28017265) Homepage

    Does MS actually think that *anybody* who makes an OS would want to do this (that isnt currently doing it, like themselves and.. anybody else?)?

    As far as I know, the only real competition for Windows is MacOS and Linux variants...

    It just goes to show how completely out of touch with reality they really are.

    • by JCSoRocks (1142053) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:52PM (#28017363)
      Good point. They might as well patent forcing the system to shut down every two hours... oh, wait...
    • Re:Who cares? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Foofoobar (318279) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:13PM (#28017667)
      This isn't just useful for stopping piracy, this is useful by the Feds and the NSA who deal with botnets and foreign agents hacking government agencies. They can send triggers to those machines to disable them. Of course this creates a customer support nightmare but as far as the NSA and Microsoft are concerned, they will just tell everyone they need to buy antivirus from Microsoft or purhcase a new computer from Dell.

      It's a win-win for Microsoft and the feds. And that's all that anyone who will prosecute them cares about.
  • Apples and apples (Score:5, Insightful)

    by soniCron88 (870042) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:48PM (#28017273) Homepage
    This is different than demos/shareware how?
    • by bughunter (10093) <.ten.knilhtrae. .ta. .retnuhgub.> on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:00PM (#28017489) Journal

      Ransomware. Crippleware [wikipedia.org]. Shareware. Nagware. Beerware... it's all been done [google.com] before. The only difference is that this is an "operating system" not an "application."

      Apparently, that's enough of a distinction for the USPTO to award a patent.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Hatta (162192)

        Shareware. Nagware.

        I read that as "Shagware."

  • Is it just me... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ausekilis (1513635) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:50PM (#28017297)

    Or does this read like the venture into a modularized price structure for an Operating System.

    You want to Install Windows? $50

    You want to Boot Windows? Another $50

    You want to Install Applications? That'll be $100

    You want to play Blu-Ray? That'll be another $50

    You want sound on your Blu-Ray movie? Cough up $35

    You want to use your peripherals? (Camera, webcam, ipod, printer, scanner) That'll be $10 per peripheral

    After all, even the synopsis says "making selected portions and functionality of the operating system unavailable to the user or by limiting the user's ability to add software applications or device drivers to the computer' until an 'agreed upon sum of money' is paid to 'unlock or otherwise make available the restricted functionality.'", who's to say they don't want to make a Windows Core available for some low price, then add Multimedia capability as a $200 add-on, or Gaming Pack for $150, maybe a Video/Sound Editing pack for $300, or a Small Business Suite for $300?

    Reads to me like MS is gonna kick the consumer in the junk, then take their wallet

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FooAtWFU (699187)
      This has been done before in a variety of cases... in particular, there's a variety of hardware platforms running custom operating systems where you can add (say) a "Firewall" license to your router/switch, or an "802.11n" license for your wireless access point. Are these close enough / earlier enough to be Prior Art-y?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BeerCat (685972)

      Or does this read like the venture into a modularized price structure for an Operating System.

      Sounds like it. :-(

      It may also be a way around anti-bundling lawsuits - "But we didn't bundle a working media player - the user had to pay extra for it"

      ~Hmmm. come to think of it, it sounds awfully like Apple shipping OS X, but charging extra for the fully functional QuickTime Pro

  • Logical dilemma (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Col. Klink (retired) (11632) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:50PM (#28017313)

    > 'they are generally licensed with complete use rights and/or functionality that may be beyond the need or desire of the system purchaser.'

    If the functionality is beyond the purchaser's need or desire, why do you need to lock it away from them? If they have to pay you extra for that functionality, doesn't that imply that they really did need and desire those rights or functionality.

  • What id funny is how, when it comes to security, their OS is too much open (need to run in admin mode to be usable). They want to close it, but to restrict the user, not to make it more secure!

    Also, how long will the public accept this ? This may be a very dangerous game, considering what happend woth the DRM debacle in the digital audio distribution.

  • by Swift Kick (240510) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:52PM (#28017345)

    ... but it definitely isn't in other areas.

    A number of NAS and SAN vendors ship products with features disabled on the OS until you pay a 'licensing fee' to unlock the features. NetApp, Isilon, and EMC/Clariion are just some I can think off the top of my head that do this.

    Technically, it isn't quite the same as say, unlocking Windows 7 Ultimate from the Home version, but it's fairly common practice in the enterprise world.

  • by DodgeRules (854165) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:52PM (#28017357)
    Well I doubt that Microsoft will ever sue Linux (users, distributors, etc) over the use of this patent.
    • by QuasiEvil (74356)

      Well said - this is not a feature I think we'd ever see in Linux, so finally it's an MS patent that's of absolutely no threat to us.

  • prior art? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MoFoQ (584566) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:52PM (#28017359)

    I'd think there would be plenty of prior art, especially in the more general "software" category.
    Shareware for one.
    There was also a "windows 3.x" shell clone back in the day that was also distributed as shareware and I think that limited some functionality.
    Crap...can't remember the name of it...Geo something (sadly...I've been feeling nostalgic and been reading up on old game consoles so the only terms that comes to mind...is neo geo...d'oh)

    What about the Amiga system....the OS was on a chip...and you had to pay to get it or you just had a "limited" (VERY) functioning computer...(more like a big paperweight).

    I'm sure there have been some other lesser known operating systems in the crevices of history that had this "limited functionality" (shareware) mentality.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      There was also a "windows 3.x" shell clone back in the day that was also distributed as shareware and I think that limited some functionality.

      Are you thinking of GEOS? (It was also marketed as Geoworks, among other names.) GEOS is a true multitasking operating system. On PC it uses DOS only for filesystem access, which is actually a nice feature! There's an older, similar OS of the same name (confusingly) for Apple II computers and the C64, which is even more impressive given the limitations of the platform.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by smellsofbikes (890263)

      I'm unclear on what you mean about the Amiga.
      My first two had something similar to LILO on a floppy, and a second floppy that had the OS.
      Later ones used several floppies unless you installed to (owner-installed) HD.

      None needed any extra payments to get the system functional: you had to buy a separate word processor, compiler and such, but that's not really different from most computers of the late 1980's.

  • I know this isn't popular, but maybe it's to stop malicious code? Instead of dumping Windows and starting over from scratch, it seems they are looking for an expedient way to shore up their OS while preserving all the legacy garbage they still support? And before you freak out, no, I don't think this is a good idea at all--I was just offering an alternative interpretation of why anybody would apply for such a patent.
  • by davidwr (791652)

    Obviously not you if you've got this installed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AnalPerfume (1356177)
      With or without this, if you run Windows you never owned it. Microsoft have never sold a piece of software, they never will; it's not in their makeup.
  • Product activation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:56PM (#28017423) Journal

    They've patented product activation. You don't get the full app till you pay up, or find a crack.

    Seriously, is this really any different than the countless other schemes for product activation that have been tried and found lacking over the years?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      Seriously, is this really any different than the countless other schemes for product activation that have been tried and found lacking over the years?

      Apparently it's automated and fully in-product. The former is not that unusual, you can buy functionality for Quickbooks over the internet for example. Even having links to buy stuff on the 'net is not unusual. This seems (from the description, since I am way too lazy to RTFA let alone RTFP) like it is to that as Windows Update in Vista is to windowsupdate.microsoft.com or whatever.

      In other words, whoop de doo. If you think this is bad, you must hate shareware. (Mind you, I despise crippleware and prefer to

  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:57PM (#28017433)

    An additional problem with open architecture systems, Microsoft explains, is that 'virtually anyone can write an application that can be executed on the system.'

    Well sure, let's fix that then. I have an experiment I'd like to try if this is the case.

    Let's order up some Windows 7 and not pay. MS will remove my ability to install new programs on it, right?

    ...by 'making selected portions and functionality of the operating system unavailable to the user or by limiting the user's ability to add software applications or device drivers to the computer' until an 'agreed upon sum of money' is paid to 'unlock or otherwise make available the restricted functionality.'

    Ta da! I'm now immune to viruses and worms. And all it took was not paying MS. So glad that one is finally solved completely. No new software can ever be run on my machine. I'm safe now.

    Thanks guys.

  • So if you create a virus that stops the functionality of your OS, is M$ gonna sue you for patent infringement?
  • by MadCow42 (243108) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:58PM (#28017457) Homepage

    Malware / trojan / virus writers have been doing this for years... locking up your computer files with encryption until you pay them money.

    Just because it wasn't a "commercial" application, doesn't mean it's not prior art!

  • Prior Art (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tricorn (199664) <sep@shout.net> on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @03:59PM (#28017471) Journal

    Although I have no problem with Microsoft holding a monopoly on this sort of "innovation", commercial operating systems have always had different levels of functionality that can be enabled or disabled. Sun's UNIX, for example, had a very complex set of rights to run compilers, debuggers, specify the number of CPUs, and otherwise limit the available features or products that could run, with many different types of licensing schemes (e.g. number of simultaneous users).

    Now, maybe the MS patent details some particularly clever method of validating usage, or changing allowed usage, but this type of thing is definitely not new.

    Remember the IBM mainframes where you "upgraded" your hardware to have more disk space or memory by the Customer Engineer flipping a switch?

    It's amazing how much money and effort has been spent on making products do less for the customer, and making them less reliable in the process. Wouldn't we all be better off if all that had been used to produce systems that worked better? Instead of HDTV sets that can't display high-resolution images from your computer because it doesn't have the right version of HDMI, they could have actually improved the quality and decreased the price, all because we can't solve the free rider problem in a more elegant fashion. My TV set won't pass on the full digital audio from my Blu-Ray player's HDMI output to my amp, it downsamples it to PCM stereo, even though the Blu-Ray player is happy to send a full resolution optical digital audio stream to that same amp. It isn't a problem with the TV, it happily sends 5-channel audio to the amp from digital broadcasts. It's so stupid that we have to put up with this garbage all so one industry can maximize profits.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dpbsmith (263124)

      "Remember the IBM mainframes where you "upgraded" your hardware to have more disk space or memory by the Customer Engineer flipping a switch?"

      I remember the "waltz-time" IBM 407 electromechanical accounting machines, "programmed" with a wired matrix board and very popular in university computing centers in the 1960s for tasks such as offline printing of punched-card decks in the 1960s.

      They had extra circuitry added to them to make them skip every third processing cycle and run at 2/3 full speed, enabling IB

  • Paging DEC... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Burdell (228580) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:00PM (#28017493)

    DEC Unix (aka DEC OSF/1 AXP, Compaq/HP Tru64 Unix) has done this since day one (and IIRC VMS did it before that). You have to enter License PAKs to get all kinds of functionality, including multi-user logins, development tools, cluster support, and AdvFS filesystem utilities.

  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:00PM (#28017503)

    Don't they mean trademark? ;)

  • Yes, please! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by peacefinder (469349) <[alan.dewitt] [at] [gmail.com]> on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:01PM (#28017515) Journal

    "Sounds like the mechanism by which Microsoft sells one version of Vista to all users, and lets users upgrade to higher-tier flavors of the OS after cash changes hands"

    Yes please!

    Okay, look, I'm not really interested in encouraging people to use MS Windows. But in those situations where I am forced to support it, having the ability to enable additional features on an as-needed basis would be vastly superior to having to license and install a whole different "edition" of the whole freakin' OS to get the same feature set. (You bought a new touchscreen monitor and you want to add tablet support to XP? Great, that'll be forty bucks, ten minutes, and we're all done. As opposed to now, when it officially requires an OS reinstall.)

    Plus, having the ability to monetize services individually will - Lord forgive me for seeing a bright side here - will encourage Microsoft to ship with a minimal default install, which one would hope would lead to improved overall security.*

    The patent is pretty laughable, though. It strikes me as a tad obvious.

    [*: Yeah, okay, maybe that's a bit of a stretch. But hey, it could happen!]

  • ...with Lala Invents Network DRM [slashdot.org], but seems to apply here...

    The 80s called. They want their floating licenses [wikipedia.org] back.

  • ... Microsoft is certainly the one that deserves it. They've been practicing at it longer than anybody else, starting with Windows XP nine years ago. This is one patent, sadly, that Microsoft actually earned.

  • Microsoft's patent practice is crippling the operating system as well as they have patented the process of crippling it.

  • Somebody paying to patent something no one else wants to do.

  • Prior Art? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Imagix (695350) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:04PM (#28017571)
    Uh, isn't there scads of prior art, specifically Shareware? Happens to be time-limited until it demands money. Or Doom which let you have the first portion until you paid them, then you got the remaining portions. And there's not much really different between an OS and any other program (fundamentally speaking...). Cheat codes in games?
  • I wodner if this could be challenged since patents are used, by definition (emphasis added), "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Essentially by making the OS crippled they are actually regressing the useful art of the OS. It'd by like trying to patent a fridge that made its contents warmer.
  • Blackmailing?
  • by sorak (246725) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:17PM (#28017735)

    So does this mean Microsoft is now the only company allowed to do this?

  • OH NOES! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:20PM (#28017779) Homepage Journal

    > An additional problem with open architecture systems, Microsoft explains, is that 'virtually anyone can write an application that can be executed on the system.'

    Of my dear Lord! You wouldn't want someone not working for a duly licensed corporate entity to be able to write for your corporate approved operating system.

    First Joe Sixpack will write something for his own computer and then the terrists.

    That statement is un-farking-believable.

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:27PM (#28017897)

    According to Microsoft, this solves a 'problem inherent in open architecture systems,' i.e., 'they are generally licensed with complete use rights and/or functionality that may be beyond the need or desire of the system purchaser.' An additional problem with open architecture systems, Microsoft explains, is that 'virtually anyone can write an application that can be executed on the system.'

    So, according to Microsoft, problems with open architecture systems is that:
    (1) The people who license (whether by purchase or otherwise) those systems can use them fully, and
    (2) People can easily develop application software for them.

    Why would anyone want to buy (or, for that matter, develop software for) an operating system from anyone who considers those things problems?

  • by sjames (1099) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:40PM (#28018087) Homepage

    intentionally crippling the functionality of an operating system

    We meant to do that! Yeah, that's it!

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:56PM (#28018333) Homepage Journal

    Is that:

    Microsoft Patents [the act of] (Crippling Operating Systems)

    or

    (Microsoft Patents) [are] Crippling Operating Systems

  • Pfft... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fireman sam (662213) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @05:08PM (#28018497) Homepage Journal

    That is a nothing patent. Here is something that would be scary:

    A method and apparatus to prevent the installation of an unauthorized operating system over an authorized installation of an existing operating system.

  • by earthforce_1 (454968) <earthforce_1 @ y a h o o . c om> on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @05:53PM (#28019079) Journal

    ...The operating system restricts the functionality of the operating system, such as by making selected portions and functionality of the operating system unavailable to the user or by limiting the user's ability to add software applications or device drivers to the computer.

    How does this differ from a guest or non-root login on a Linux system?

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