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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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  • by Swift Kick (240510) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @04:52PM (#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.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by drsmithy (35869) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .yhtimsrd.> on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @05:00PM (#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:prior art? (Score:3, Informative)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @05:04PM (#28017569) Homepage Journal

    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:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by icebike (68054) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @05:24PM (#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:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by mccrew (62494) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @05:26PM (#28017881)

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

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @05:26PM (#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?

  • Re:prior art? (Score:3, Informative)

    by smellsofbikes (890263) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @05:28PM (#28017921) Journal

    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.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chabo (880571) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @05:34PM (#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.

  • by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @06:09PM (#28018523) Journal

    The Vax 11/730 was 45 kg and 81 Liters; the 11/750, 182 kg and 588 L, and the Vax 11/780 larger still, at 1372 L and 492 kg.

    source [netbsd.org]

    Perhaps DEC was being clever, and concealed lead weights in a larger chassis?

  • Re:prior art? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @06:29PM (#28018813)

    You've not actually used an Amiga then? The OS ROM and disks came with all models sold without any extra purchase.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

    by NtroP (649992) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @07:30PM (#28019549)

    Are those recent prices? And, is any of this gear actually "enterprise" level quality, or just expensive crap you can get for cheaper down at the best buy? Either way, that is some fucked up shit.

    As far as I'm concerned, its all a big scam. The only thing I can really compare apples to apples is the hard drives. The hard drives that they put in those FND SANs cost something like $1500 for a 500GB SATA (these prices were from like 1-2 years ago). They say that the drives are certified, but as far as I'm concerned, if they don't last for 20+ years and go 10 times faster (which they don't) then they are not worth that price. Unfortunately, I guess if you want to get support and the whole 9 yards on support, you have to go through them. You can't just buy your own hard drives from DEX or something. So yeah, its a big scam. When we spent the million on a 40TB SAN (included large switches too, etc.) I sat down and calculated how much it would cost to buy some 15 bay chasis with fiber channel cards and fill those up like DAEs. For 1 million, we could have had a 1PB SAN. Or we could have had 40TB for like $40,000.

    I know that, at least with NetApp, they flash the drives with their own, proprietary firmware. That's what you're paying for. I'm not sure if the firmware actually makes them more reliable or allows tighter integration with their controllers or something. The cynical side of me wouldn't be surprised if it is only to keep cheaper drives from working with their controllers and actually does nothing for performance or reliability.

    The saddest thing about NetApp is, they have a great product! However, the pain of being sold on their product based on what we were demoed it can do only to discover after it was installed that EVERY SINGLE IMPORTANT FEATURE required a frickin' fortune to separately enable makes me unable to recommend them to anyone else. We actually rolled out two OpenFiler boxes right next to it that have performed admirably and can do almost everything the NetApp does for about 5% the price. Basically, the only stuff we run off the NetApp are the "politically sensitive" systems. If the NetApp bites it we can raise our hands, point and say "Hey, it was on the expensive 'enterprise' system..." Otherwise, we've seen just as mush reliability out of the open source OpenFiler systems.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Informative)

    by HiThere (15173) <charleshixsn&earthlink,net> on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @07:33PM (#28019591)

    Depends on just how "application" gets defined. And you can believe their public justifier if you want to, but don't expect me to agree. I ran more than 3 apps at once on a MSWind3.1 (Wrong version?). That was why TSRs were invented. It didn't require any gig of RAM, or even ANY hard disk.

    (You can claim that a TSR wasn't really running on the system, but that's not how it looked to the end user. It just didn't do any background processing.)

  • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Radworker (227548) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @08:12PM (#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:3, Informative)

    by jc42 (318812) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @10:54PM (#28021167) Homepage Journal

    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 submitting a bogus patent application on someone else's invention. And there is plenty of precedent for this sort of locking, from well before Microsoft existed.

    The only likely use of this is against small-time developers who continue to develop Windows software without maintaining their license payments. And against small-time developers who write jail-break code for MS software. If you're small enough to be bankrupted by the court costs, you're their natural prey; otherwise they won't bother you.

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