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MS To Virginia Beach: Prove You Own Your Software 460

Corey Winesett writes: "Virginia Beach, the largest city in VA, has been ordered by Microsoft to audit its software and produce documentation. The city has 5900 employees, 3500 computers and is '99%' Microsoft dependent. The city says that this could cost thousands of dollars and called the letter 'jolting.' Here is a link to the story." From the article, one of the great arguments for software that doesn't need a file cabinet of certificates: "Microsoft, like most software companies, includes contracts with its merchandise explaining that the company reserves the right to ask consumers at any time for proof of purchase and an inventory of what is being used. The rule applies not only to governments and privately owned companies but to individuals." Aren't you glad you use Open Source?
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MS To Virginia Beach: Prove You Own Your Software

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  • probably gets a lot of traffic unrelated to Slashdot -- authors describe mechanical problems caused by constantly pouring requests. As for Mozilla, now it supports mime multipart just fine -- I know because my webcam uses it.
  • "Cease and desist"! ;)


  • by sheldon ( 2322 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @05:43PM (#649377)
    This isn't Microsoft's fault... it is the fault of an incompetent IT department.

    We made a similar mistake where I work, except with hardware. We decided to lease hardware, went with GE Capital and then got into a bad contract.

    On top of that we weren't tracking hardware inventory well and had a lot of stuff which had expired off lease but nobody knew where it was.

    As such we were still paying stiff lease costs on old hardware, and were facing some stiff penalties on the contract and had to spend a month scrambling around cleaning up the mess.

    It was the same deal, because of some bad decisions and a lack of proper management, we ended up in a bind and had to scramble to save our asses.

    Just look at your story. This is what your IT department did which caused the screw up:

    - Failed to listen to client needs when choosing an office suite forcing them to install something in addition to what you choose.

    - Failed to monitor and lockdown desktops from having unsanctioned/unlicensed software installed.

    - Failed to enforce a policy with the support staff about installing unlicensed software.

    - Failed to track purchased licenses and other accounting stuff.

    These painful lessons wouldn't have been a problem with competent management looking proactively at the problems. Same with our hardware lease problem we had.
  • This wasn't really intended to be 'funny' as it was modded, although I do realize the idea of copy protection might cause a few smiles some place. I'm not 100% advocating copy protection, but it still seems to me that if they really were interested in cutting down piracy, they'd pursuit this angle more. It would be cheaper in the long run to force more purchases than it would be to spend $ to track down illegals, but...

    As someone else pointed out, no protection means that they increase market share, as they have done so much in the past few years.

    Also, it does seem this is probably more about Office than the OS. The OS is starting to be effectively copy protected more with newer distributions of CDs from OEMs - most new machines you get now only include the OS as part of a 'backup/recovery' CD. The OS doesn't exist independantly of the rest of the 'default' installed system. Yes, it'll help if you completely mess up your system, but you can't take that disk and use it with VMWare, for example. Even though you've paid for a copy of Windows, they are severely restricting how and where you can run it.

    For example, I can't take my HP Paviliion copy of Windows 98 and install it on a different system, even though the license I agreed to says I can move the OS to another machine if I delete it from the first. :(
  • by IO ERROR ( 128968 ) < minus cat> on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:56AM (#649384) Homepage Journal
    I wasn't going to get into this argument either, but what the hell.

    What happens, however, if a user turns his PC off with out shutting it down - It happens, especially when they want to get out of the office as fast as possible on a Friday evening. Chances are that Linux will not boot up again,

    Yes, this is a serious problem on a server. For a desktop client, the computer is idle most of the time so it has plenty of chance to sync, and the fsck passes 99% of the time. But your support costs will still go up, and your help desk will spend a lot of time saying, "No, don't reboot the machine, no, don't turn it off, yes, you can leave it on all weekend." Anybody that turns off a desktop machine here, regardless of OS, gets a stern warning from management, since the desktop people have a habit of pushing out updates via Tivoli over the weekends or at night.

    For the really stupid users, try disconnecting the power button.

    Their presentation app is ridiculous and practically unuseable, besides why run KDE when StarOffice insists on having it's own (terribly bloated) desktop environment.

    I understand the bloated prsentation manager is off by default in OpenOffice or whatever it's called this week.

    Linux has significantly higher support costs.

    Higher than Windows 9x, sure. Anybody can come along and screw up the machine. NT doesn't really have this problem unless you give everyone the administrator password (you didn't, did you?)... So where are the support costs? Training? You have that expense with NT anyway. Migration? A one-time expense. Not one to ignore, certainly, but still a one-time expense. Help desk? Field techs? It's not hard to find people who know Linux. Ask around, I hear a lot of them hang out on this place called slashdot. You might even have a few of them among your current staff, and not even know it. And I guarantee they'll all be more competent than your average overpaid MCSE.

    Nearly all desktop clients get rebooted daily.

    I think I covered this one already.

    But, as I've already said, you have to evaluate this kind of thing very carefully. For some organizations, such a migration is worth it. For others, migrating SOME of the desktops to Linux is the best bet. For many, not migrating from Windows is the way to go.

  • What happens, however, if a user turns his PC off with out shutting it down - It happens, especially when they want to get out of the office as fast as possible on a Friday evening. Chances are that Linux will not boot up again, /dev/hda2 was not cleanly unmounted, cannot find superblock, kernel panic etc...

    Linux tends to recover fairly well from an improper shutdown. Most of the time, it only runs into things that fsck can fix automatically. Even if it doesn't, you can set fsck to run with the -y option, which will automatically fix just about anything. (In Debian, there is even an option in a config file to set for this.)

    Windows is about the same as the default Linux behaviour, at least as presented to the users. When Windows is rebooted without properly shutting down first, it will run scandisk and will pop up a box asking what to do if it finds errors.

    However, neither of these is really that much of a problem if you have your users shut down the machine before turning it off. I only have about 15 users that I support, but every one of them has been able to understand the concept of telling the computer to shut down before turning it off.

    --Phil (And to think I just barely missed your UID cutoff point.)
  • No one seems to get it: UCITA doesn't matter. It's not a big deal. In this case, UCITA is irrelevant.

    The demand letter described above is and has been for years common and routine. An audit demand has been SOP for any claim of software misuse by a BSA member, typically followed by a demand for some multiple of the license fee as a "penalty."

    Microsoft's conduct was its routine before UCITA, it will be its routine after UCITA. There is no way a plaintiff would sue only under the license or UCITA defaults -- which do not provide for either an audit, statutory damages or an award of attorney fees.

    And MS would never consider putting an attorney fee provision into a EULA, exposing Microsoft to fees along with every customer complaint. Why should it? The Copyright Act provides all the hammer, and only the licensor would be able to use that.

    By the way, have you ever considered how easy it is to sue a municipality in its own municipal court?
  • Yeah - just add it the list of items an annual internal audit has to verify; an inventory of software assets that is provably licenced. Doesn't seem to be that big a deal to me. Oh sure mechanically its a real nightmare to actually track what packages you have deployed to whom and what the lic. #'s are. Or alternatively you count the number of packages and hope that if you're '99% reliant on MS' you have some kind VPA, site licence or similar agreement. Then the auditors come in, say whether they can pass you on that task or not. If yes, great, if no then you've failed your audit and are usually given an amount of time to remediate. If you can't remediate then 1 or two things happen: a) the vendor, MS takes you to court for damages. b) your bond rating drops. Either way its no big deal for a government. It's not likely that anything like this could bankrupt a government but even if it did technically then you would have a default and things would continue on as normal except w/o capital improvements and other vendors, etc. getting paid.

  • Oh, and by the way.

    Microsoft's claim here is that the municipaility is using the software without having purchased a license for it. If that is the gravamen of their claim, how could Microsoft sue under UCITA or the license for unlicensed use? If you aren't licensed for the copies in dispute, how would UCITA or the license control?

    That, by the way, is what the Copyright Act is for! Providing a remedy for a person making copies of or using software without permission.
  • Shrink-wrap/Click-wrap licenses have been enforceable (and generally considered enforceable) for over a decade, and after the ProCD v. Zeidenberg case it has been virtually a fait accomplis.

    Of course, there is no such clause presently in the Microsoft EULA, notwithstanding any of this. Have you considered why?

    Microsoft almost certainly has no right at law to demand an audit, either pre-UCITA or post-UCITA.

    The original post was just demagogical pabulum.
  • by victim ( 30647 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @07:41AM (#649399)
    Here are some statistics about slashdot readers from a recently slashdotted site.

    • 60% Use IE (55% use IE5 or higher)
    • 38% use Netscape (28% use 4.7 or higher)

    • 78% use Windows (29% win98, 28% nt4.0, 18% win2k)
    • 12% use linux
    • 5% use macintosh
    • 2% use sun

    On platforms where IE and netscape are both available, IE is preferred 3:1. Down in the ragged fringes of the outlyers you will find that 1% use Mozilla and 0.3% use BSD.
  • Yes, but the *reason* OSes have bad uptime is because they *crash*. Crashing, AFAIK, is the number one problem users have with Microsoft products. Ever overheard a complaint about a computer? It's almost never about something that is a consistent problem with their computer; it's usually about how "I was just using it and suddenly it froze". Although 200-day uptimes aren't necessary, the point is that Linux won't just up and crash for no reason.

    err... making it good for the Server Environment?

    Seriously though... consider this user complaint:

    "I was just working and it crashed... I lost all my work this morning"

    Have you ever considered that they weren't doing any work that morning? It's a great excuse for users to perpetuate the myth of the unstable operating system... So which operating system bears the brunt of the blame? Well, it'll be the one that workers use.

    I may just see if we have any "Intranet" workers and see if a Linux/Netscape build PC crashes as much as a WinNT/Explorer build... Let's face it, Linux hasn't really been tested on the non-tech workforce yet. Users are pretty good at messing up systems. Sometimes they deliberately sabotage them in the hope of getting a new laptop.

  • Big deal, make all students pay 20$ and make lab passes 20$ cheaper.

    Erik Z
  • I've had my share of stupid Linux users, too. Spoke with a Mandrake user this morning who didn't realize I was going to ask him to check his configuration. He didn't have the machine turned on! Linux won't make its users smarter. Then again, it wasn't designed for that - for that matter, Windows wasn't either.

    Have you had 100 unclean shutdowns?

    No, I've had many more than that, especially on my laptop, which likes to spontaneously un-suspend while I'm not looking, and it's unplugged. I've had fsck -a bail three times in the last six years, and all three were traced to hardware failure, and none of them were on my laptop.

    78 days uptime on a box is not a big deal, regardless of the Operating System.

    No, it's not a big deal, unless that box is used in common by 15 users accustomed to Windows (AND rebooting). Maybe it's because I haven't told them HOW to reboot the machine. The box has been running Linux for a year and a half, and no one's needed to know how to reboot it, except for me, when I update the kernel.

    These problems are difficult to troubleshoot as NT provides no sure fire way of finding out what is wrong.

    By contrast, Linux tells you exactly what's wrong, and sometimes will even tell you how to fix it! Of course, if you have a bizarre and mysterious error message, you should cross reference it against sig11 [].

  • This is an unfair advantage to M$ that their competitors don't have and it needs to be brought to the attention of every city atty in the country.

    Why does MS have this right and other software vendors don't? Surely that's not the case. Maybe other vendors don't include such a clause in their contracts, but they could...

    It's a contract, if you don't agree with the contract then don't sign it. If you feel Microsoft software is so necessary to run your organisation then you're either going to have to try to negotiate different terms, or lump it.

    Otherwise don't buy it. It's not a human right for software to be provided to you according to whatever terms you wish. It's a market place. Sure MS have distorted the market in other ways, but I don't think this is an example of that.

    Even the guy in the article admits MS are within their contractual rights to ask for the audit.

  • by Masem ( 1171 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @05:48AM (#649409)
    IIRC, Virginia was the first state to enact UCITA, which allows such tactics (forcing software owners to prove they have licenses). Could this be a case of MS testing the waters on something large, but not significantly large, to make sure UCITA can hold up?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Because it's shit.

    I'm far more productive with NT4 + MS Office.

    I like Linux, but I simply cannot be as productive with Linux applications as I can be with MS ones....

    BTW it's not flamebait, it's the plain simple truth. If someone gave me a set of alternatives that ran on Linux that were just as good, then I'd use them.
  • by flynt ( 248848 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @05:50AM (#649413)
    What makes you think the entire Slashdot demographic uses open source software? I'm positive many of the readers don't.
  • by taz757 ( 143759 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @08:42AM (#649423)
    Yes, that's right. I work for the City of Virignia Beach. I have been employed in the current department for about a year and half now, but I did work in the IT department for about 3 or so years. This is not too surprising that this came about, but it was a shock when we found out that we were being audited. The IT staff rarely kept track of who was given what, when. Nobody in the organization was prepared for anything like this. When I worked in the IT department, our standard office app was (and to this day is) Corel Suite 8. We decided to go with Corel over Microsoft because the site license was substantially cheaper than the MOLP for Microsoft Office. Yes, we do have copies of Office 97 and 2K, but each department had to buy a seat licence for every machine that was going to use it. Well, needless to say, some of the IT staffers made copies of the Office97 install CDs and handed them out to the Network Admins of the different departments so that they could install Office when needed. I have seen many Network Admins just go off and install Office as they see fit without buying a license for that PC. Granted, some of the machines had Word 6 or the like on them, so they already had a licence to install Office 97. (The departments were given Office97 upgrade and to officially use it the departments would have to go out and buy Works before they could legally install it.) Now this doesn't discuss other software, such as SQL Server (which we have a few installed) and the OS itself.

    Well, needless to say, that being a Network Admin at my new job within this organization has been very stressful. We've had to inventory every machine and send the results back to our IT department so they can compile a list. We've also got to dig out old purchase orders and recipts to prove that we bought said software and how many licenses of it we actually own. After all is said and done, there's no telling what Microsoft will do to us if we don't match what they think we should have. We've got until November 27th to comply with Microsoft. So, until then, that's all that organization as a whole is focused on right now, making everybodies lives "so much fun." Thank you Microsoft.

    I just thought that some of you would like to know what is going on from inside. There wasn't a lot of details in the newspaper article, so hopefully this will inform some of you guys. After all of the hell that I'm going through, I just hope someone else isn't this stupid to make a mistake like this.


  • by Christopher B. Brown ( 1267 ) <> on Saturday November 04, 2000 @08:43AM (#649426) Homepage
    I smell a wish for money, likely a forlorn hope thereof...

    This situation is exactly why large companies get quite paranoid about making sure they have license trackers, and policies whereby they can fire you for using "illegitimate" software.

    It may sound like a cool idea to shift everything over to Linux; it's not too likely to happen as a result of this sort of thing.

    There are always rumors floating around about how "Microsoft did a license audit, and then demanded an share of equity in return for not taking legal action"; obviously not something they could implement with a government agency!

    In order for Linux to represent a realistic possibility, some major system integrator like IBM, PWC, EDS, or such needs to provide a "reference" by taking a 20,000 workstation company and "disrupting" them over to use Linux to run desktop applications.

    That hasn't happened yet, and despite the fact that availability of stuff like ApplixWare keeps improving, the "churn" of StarOffice versions and of Corel WordPerfect, and the perpetual "coming soon" status of KDE and GNOME's offerings mean that implementing this as a total replacement of MS Office for other than small organizations seems to be some distance away yet.

    Whether the options will converge to "being enough" is another question; there's still no reasonable replacement for the ubiquitous MS Access (we have yet to see if would-be alternatives will go anywhere), and the change, when applied throughout a sizable organization, would certainly be disruptive.

    Furthermore, if they put in Linux, while this might mean that OS licensing would be free, they'd still be left with the license tracking problem for all sorts of stuff with restrictive "non-free" licenses that would likely need to get installed such as:

    • Commercial fax software
    • "Office" stuff like WordPerfect, ApplixWare, StarOffice
    • Relational databases like Oracle, DB/2, Informix
    • DB Front Ends like Corel Paradox, Inprise Kylix
    • Web Stuff like Omnis Studio

    Seeing as how all this sort of stuff does run on Linux, "switching to Linux" does not forcibly eliminate the "license tracking problem."

    Indeed, by providing the implication that the issue goes away, it may even make it less tractable.

  • ok, what the fuck is up with that? doens't Microsoft have the obligation to prove they pirated the software? Someone please explain to me how they can "force" them to prove they own software without any proof to the contrary.


  • I spent almost two years working for one of the largest companies in the world (here's a hint, they *HATE* those commercials) and it was my understanding that every year, Microsoft would request an audit of the software licenses in use. With over 50,000 employees in the US alone, you can imagine how labor intensive this would be so instead of doing an audit or letting Microsoft snoop around, they simply used a formula where they took the amount of employees with PCs, double or tripled it, and then paid for that many copies of the main MS apps in use, like Office and the OS (80% Win9x, 20% WinNT).

    This "true up" check was in the MILLIONS of dollars from what I understand and Microsoft was always happy with it. I wonder why. heh
  • by Papa Legba ( 192550 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @07:51AM (#649435)
    I can tell you without even looking that they are not in compliance. The city of Va beach alwasy does things on the cheap.

    having recently been job hunting in this area I know that Va beach has been without a director for their computer operations for a while. The reason that this position remains unfilled is that they want someone with a MCSE and a masters in CS to fill the position. The salary? $40K. This area is so poor on pay scale that programmers only make $15 an hour on average. Tech support goes for $10 an hour and the only reason the average is that high is that Gateway and Cannon both have tech Support call centers here.

    In this case I have no sympathy for Va Beach. they have sold every IT worker in the area down the river by ROUTINLEY touting how cheap their tech help is to new companies looking at the area. Va beach is reaping what it has sown. They have driven every tech who can get out , out of the area. The ones that are left are bitter and want to leave. The only thing holding me down is I want to finish my degree before I head for the hills.

    So don't weep for Va Beach, if they could have gotten their claws into you then they would have happily screwed you over. M$ has done some crappy things but they have never directly and intentionally hurt my bottom line or the way I live.
  • by IO ERROR ( 128968 ) < minus cat> on Saturday November 04, 2000 @07:53AM (#649438) Homepage Journal
    I may just see if we have any "Intranet" workers and see if a Linux/Netscape build PC crashes as much as a WinNT/Explorer build... Let's face it, Linux hasn't really been tested on the non-tech workforce yet. Users are pretty good at messing up systems. Sometimes they deliberately sabotage them in the hope of getting a new laptop.

    Be sure and give them the root password! That way, when they can't mess up the whole system from their user account, they will have a way to "get their important work done."

  • With the exception of a few hour stints for games, I havn't used Windows on my home or work machines for about 3 years.

    How many people can I trade HTML documents with? About everyone.

    Linux doesn't have a perfect desktop environment, and it's productivity apps need some work, but they're not TOTALLY unusable. Linux (and presumably any other OSS OS) helps me learn, because it lets me see what I want to - that's what's most important to me in an OS.
  • <bodytype neck="none">

    What diabolical plan had seized Bill crazed imagination?

    First, there's the lackluster defense in court. Next, the "offer you can't refuse" to Corel. Then the hack news. Now this. Is BG trying to destroy his company? This is almost like a Greek tragedy: the personality flaws of the main character bringing him down in the end - BG's paranoia and megalomania driving his company down doobie-down-down-down. Anybody else have a vision of Bill as Slim Pickens riding a nuke down, whooping all the way?
  • Can we perhaps look at these stories without the bias of Slashdot-induced, "M$ is inherently evil" shades?
  • It's called a site license and this is how they are sold.

  • Seriously. Sounds evil, right? I mean, I don't like it.. but..

    IF someone walked into my company (granted I'm not THAT big) and said 'I'm from MS, this is our lawyer, and we want you to demonstrate that you are up-to-date on your licensing' I could give him a very fair and good showing of it in about 15 minutes. I would not have to go out and 'audit' my entire company, and would not expect them to ask me to. I can say 'We have x employees, here is a chart covering our licenses. If you wanna wait a few days, our purchasing guys can pull up all the POs if you don't believe us.

    Simply the fact that the records exist would probably appease them.

    I would think being asked to confirm your licensing would only seem 'intolerable' if you are not at all prepared. How do they know they are up to date?
  • think of the PR.

    Redhat, or somebody, should come in on a white horse, and show the benefits of open source.

    "This will never happen to you again with open sourece software."


  • If VA Beach had proper internal documentation to demonstrate their licensing was in order, this would probably not be a problem.

    Of course.. how many of us think about that.

    As any large company, they have an obligation to their shareholders (taxpayers) to minimize legal exposure. Every IT dept. should know that you must be able to account for your software licensing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 04, 2000 @07:18AM (#649466)
    I am an employee of the City of Virginia Beach. While all of our desktop pc's run Microsoft Os's (mostly Win95 and some NT) our official standard office suite is still Corel Office. Some offices have purchased copies of Word or Excel for occasional use. However, 99.9% of users (and all official interdepartmental docs)are WordPerfect or QPro files.

    I have a copy of Microsoft Office 2000 Pro installed on my pc that I personally bought and paid for a year or so ago since the IT department doesn't support it they wouldn't allow the purchase of it at that time. I only use MS Office apps on occasions when I really need to open up a file natively to extract data. I much prefer WordPerfect and QuattroPro for daily use. I particularly dislike Word.

    As to the speculation as to how much this audit may end up costing us. To my knowledge, so far the 2 largest departments have come up pretty clean with only a few copies of software that can't be properly accounted for. Odds are that most of those cases are just sloppy bookkeeping rather than actual piracy. It will be interesting to see the final results of this audit.

    The curious thing is that I just learned a couple of weeks ago that any pc's we purchase in the future will be coming with the MS Office suite already installed rather than the Corel suite. If a department insists on wanting the Corel Suite they'll have to pay extra for that (a mere $38.00). We (the employees) have also just recently been offered the ability to take training classes in MS Office suite apps. We have, however, been able to take Access classes for a couple of years now since many offices have started using that for their simpler database needs. Prior to the switch to Access we were big users of R:base. In fact there are still quite a few people still relying on some R:base applications - not everything has yet been converted to FoxPro, Access, or SQL Server. I keep a copy of R:base 3.1 on hand cuz I can do some things more quickly and easily with it rather than Access. We also use GroupWise - at least for the time being.

    Wow. The largest city in the state is still using WordPerfect and R:base. While the vast majority of users would probably find that StarOffice will do everything they want/need the chances of us making a move to Linux/Star Office are about as good as us sticking with the Corel Suite - zero.

    My guess is that rather than a disgruntled employee trying to rat us out to MS some marketing or sales droid at MS finally realized that the largest city in the state had still not adopted MS Office as their standard office suite and may be using this audit to "force" the switch from Corel.

    Of course that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.
  • That's the whole point of the EULA. If you don't do what Microsoft says, they revoke your license.

    I would love to see THAT happens, though. :-)
  • From the way you describe it sounds more like a protection scheme the mob used to run. If you pay some money we will "protect" you from the thugs who just might break your windows and burn your store down. This kind of a shakedown has long been a staple of gangsters and apparently has now been adopted by MS. Maybe we need to go after them with the RICO laws. I guess this these things are going to go on until Billy "the bull" gates does some jail time.

    I actually don't buy that whole "the chances of an audit is nil" stuff because you have no say in the matter. If MS decides to get you they will there is nothing you can do about it. You are presumed guilty and have to prove your innocense to their satisfaction. The entire matter wholly arbitrary and you have no rights. You either have to pay up to pay the lawyers to fight them. Seeing as how MS has a HUGE legal dept and are likely to cream you in court (the law only works for the rich in this country) you are screwed. You nothing but a bitch hoe of MS. When they get horny they will come over and screw you and your entire family and there is nothing you can do about it.
  • A little while back I knew someone who sniffed the local network and looked at where attacks were directed. Linux boxes were targeted more than anything else. We speculated that they're common enough that lots of script kiddies can get their hands on one for learning, easy enough for someone clue-limited to use, and powerful enough to be worth hacking. Getting in a linux box is much more useful than a windows machine. Besides, if they're looking at what OS I'm running, then they might tailor attacks based on that. Of course, if you really wanted to find out what I'm running, it wouldn't be that hard. (One of these days I'm going to recompile my kernel to use non-standard TCP headers.)

  • Actually.. they probablyu don't THINK there MIGHT be a couple bad licenses... they probably think there are a LOT of unlicensed copies running. a LOT. THey may have been tipped off that the IT Dept. was not tracking licensing, or whatever, so they decided to make a point out of it.

    Yeah.. tco... any large institution/company's IT department should damn well KNOW that you have to track your licensing, and be able to account for it, simply because it opens up a legal exposure to the company. You have to track it, otherwise, HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU ARE LEGIT?

    If asked this question, I could satisfy their lawyers in about 10 minutes by opening up one file folder full of licensing info.

    They'd probably be happy with the spreadsheet, and budget documents. (the fact that the money was budgeted, and an internal document indicates that, on a per-employee basis, we are legit. They don't *care* about one or two rogue license.
  • Now there's an opportunity for some Linux company to go out there and sell them on converting to an all-open-source solution.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Maybe if you had tracked the licenses (which is every IT person's job) you wouldn't have had any problems. If you had to pay a fine, then your company was stealing software. Guilty and caught...whose fault is that?
  • by Nicolas MONNET ( 4727 ) <> on Saturday November 04, 2000 @07:22AM (#649489) Journal
    $100,000 per violation? That's insane. Question: suppose you cripple someone. Will you ever pay $100k in damage? Maybe, but probably not. A piece of crappy software is therefore more important than a life ... great world we're leaving in. Don't forget to hug your lobbyist.


  • There are other things you can do too.

    1) Vote nader.
    2) Protest loudly and often against stupid licencing schemes.
    3) harrass the hell out of politicians who pass stupid laws allowing corporations to rape you whenever they want.
    4) Contribute to FSF and GNU.
    5) Lobby everyone you know and try to get the supreme court to reverse it's decision to allow soul-less immortal beings the same rights as mortal human beings with souls. This abominable demeaning of human beings has got to go.
    Get activated and organized
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Is this really a surprise? Microsoft and their buddies in BSA are just a bunch of jackbooted nazi thugs disguised as respectable businessmen.

    Our University got caught redhanded by BSA for running unlicensed Microsoft software on some staff computers.

    As a part of the settlement, they had to sign to an exclusive Microsoft campus license. This means that the University is in breach of the contract if non-Microsoft Operating Systems are run on any computer in the campus network.

  • Small scale "piracy" is good for their buisness. If a 14 year old who wants to be a sysadmin when he grows up has to pay $500 for NT, it's not going to happen - he'll find Linux and learn that. If he can "pirate" NT, then he'll learn NT, and Microsoft will have other NT admin on the market in a few years.

    It's similar with MS Office. Normal home users aren't going to pay $600 for an office licence, but they'll happilly "pirate" it to be using the same thing the people they know are. This helps Microsoft by giving them another Office user.

    Small scale "piracy" helps even more, if Microsoft is known to crack down on large scale "piracy". If a company's employies are all experianced in NT/Office, the company will be forced to buy licences for these products. And licences to the yearly upgrades to these products. And licences to other MS products, because only MS products work well with MS products.

    If Joey the 14 year old sysadmin-to-be pirates NT, learns it, and doesn't find out about alternitives, (Or absorbs the MS-Propaganda at 14, and dismisses the alternitives) think how many potential licenses for Microsoft products he will cause to be purchased once he gets his MSCE and a job.

    If Joey can't "pirate" NT, or even has trouble "pirating" it because of copy protection, Microsoft may well get NO licences.

    Small scale "piracy" acceptance, and no copy protection, is an obvious win for Microsoft. Suing buisness that "pirate" Microsoft software just reinforces the win condition.

  • by HEbGb ( 6544 )
    While I'm sure this is buried within the fine print of MIcrosoft's EULA, do you think it is actually enforcable?

    I would imagine that this could be interpreted as an excessive burden on the government or company involved, and, in fact, may violate the privacy of the organization.

    If my office bought a bunch of chairs, how silly would it be to allow the manufacturer to demand an inventory of what we're using, and where? Why is it any different in software? While software is obviously easier to copy, the principle is the same. It's simply none of their business. If we refuse, what then? Are they going to break down the door? Obtain a search warrant?

    I'd love to see this challenged in court. From the article, it doesn't sound likely in this case; the city will just bend over for them...
  • How do you know? Sometimes I set my proxy server to fake being an Windows/IE combo. I figure it's good for security when visiting sites of dubious integrity...
  • well, there would be a productivity loss... but not for the reasons you listed. It would probably happen because of the lack of a decent office software package for linux. Where I work, we have a lot of people still using 24-32MB Pentium boxes. How do you plan on loading something like KDE2 + star office on this? At least M$ office is modular in that you can open winword without opening excel, thus cutting down on your memory usage.

    oh, and winword loads in about 2 seconds. soffice loads in about 30. There is a huge difference in memory usage here that severly affects memory systems.

    The reason there is no productivity loss due to users not being able to figure out the OS is that a good sysadmin will setup the box so that it works properly. The end user doesn't need to know any technical details about linux, just how to start the programs that they need. In addition to that, a good sysadmin will also run employees through training so that they DO know how to use linux.
  • No, they'll get a root floppy, mount their root partition and wipe it. Or they'll just get a Win98 boot disk and resize their partitions.
  • by IO ERROR ( 128968 ) < minus cat> on Saturday November 04, 2000 @05:52AM (#649514) Homepage Journal
    ...and not for M$. It's disruptive things like this that make IT departments stop and think seriously about their investment in Microsoft products.

    I know that if the company I work for ever got audited, all hell would break loose. The licenses for each copy of NT Workstation 4.0 were left with the individual workstations, where they, uh, tend to disappear for some reason. And that doesn't even count Office, which every workstation has, but I've never seen a license for.

    The question of the day is, would it cost more to pay M$ for the unaccounted-for pieces of software, or to switch to Linux? You can bet your a$$ that somebody in Virginia Beach is thinking hard about that very question right now.

    And Virginia Beach is not all that far from Research Triangle Park []...

  • "MS To Virginia Beach: Prove You Own Your Software"

    This has to be a misnomer, since all the EULAs that Microsoft employs are very careful to state that AT NO TIME DO YOU OWN THE SOFTWARE -- it's all licenced from MS, and they have the right to yank you licence, change terms, etc.

    Illegal? Hell yes, but because people are stupid, they still accept signing away their rights for something they are utterly dependant on. I *like* being able to say I own my software.
  • "Truth is, Microsoft has every right to do such an audit."

    Comments like this are exactly why I'm voting for Nader on Tuesday. MS has zero right to do an "audit" of a customer. Does Walmart have "every right" to ask you to show them receipts for all the items in your house (just in case you shoplifted some of them)?
    An abstained vote is a vote for Bush and Gore.
  • by seizer ( 16950 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @05:53AM (#649519) Homepage
    Hypothetical situation: If the City did absolutely nothing, and did not respond, wouldn't it be up to Microsoft to prove that the City held unlicensed copies of the software? Rather than the city having to cease all day to day operations in order to audit and discover a handful of "illegal" copies of Word, or whatever? But I suppose that MS would chase it to the death, rather than give up. I hate EULAs doing this kind of thing.

    This kind of thing makes me grumpy. All the worse, because:

    ``It's the world we live in,'' Sullivan said. ``Microsoft has every right to ask us for the information.''


    --Remove SPAM from my address to mail me
  • by platypus ( 18156 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @05:53AM (#649521) Homepage
    If you're going to use warez, use them exclusivly (so the vendor has no contract allowing him to ask you) ...
  • by GC ( 19160 ) <> on Saturday November 04, 2000 @07:25AM (#649528)
    You make some very valid points. Although:

    the fsck passes 99% of the time

    Have you had 100 unclean shutdowns? I've had a few due to power outages, Laptop batteries expiring, kids unplugging the wrong box to plug something else in and so on, 99% is a little high in my experience. Hell, I've had to learn to copy superblock backups.
    At work most of our users have Laptops and some of them do indeed run Linux as well, although officially unsupported by IT, I still get questions from such users about how to retrieve their system, because it won't boot.

    If you run remote admin stuff then leaving the PCs on over weekends can make uptime a client issue. I wasn't going to mention this before as I thought some fanatic zealot would try to behead me for saying it - 78 days uptime on a box is not a big deal, regardless of the Operating System. I was applying a service pack to one of our Exchange servers (NT4 Dell PE4300) to find that it had been up for 120 days recently. I noted this fact because I had previously heard that NT had a problem staying up for more than 55 days. I had even heard that it was impossible for an NT box to last longer than this. Before I had applied the service pack it was on service pack 4.

    I only recently found out how to check the uptime on an NT box:

    Bring up task manager and check the number of hours in the "System Idle" process. If you have some NT servers around the place check their uptimes, do a File --> Run --> calc.exe and divide the number by 24.

    I think people may be pleasantly surprised by NT, or... they're just not very good at building a stable box. It they really get regular blue screens from NT, chances are that it's not correctly configured or you have a hardware problem.

    These problems are difficult to troubleshoot as NT provides no sure fire way of finding out what is wrong. Make sure you have the correct drivers, have a box that is set up correctly etc... Easiest way is use a manufacturer who provides a good OEM installation process for NT.

  • Well in France, Microsoft would come to the door and I would tell them to fuck off.

    Seriously, BSA is in some trouble here because they sent threatening letters, and actually the implied threats in it make it illegal (according to one lawyer at least, but go figure how it would turn out in court ...) since it might fall under slander/libel laws and a few other reasons.


  • I think alot of people who post here are a little crazy about this open-source movement. Yeah, open source is great for some things, but the fact is that MS puts out more functional products, at the price of us having to pay for them. These fools down in Virginia forgot about the second bit, and now they have to pay.

    Its a shame that MS chose to attack the city, rather than some corporation (wouldn't it be grand if they got medieval on the RIAA?) where the burden will hit the taxpayer.

    Moral of the story? Pay for your software.

  • Don't you love when folks make it up as they go?

    Please cite the UCITA provision that permits "softwar owners to prove they have licenses."
  • While I'm sure this is buried within the fine print of MIcrosoft's EULA, do you think it is actually enforcable?

    It's not in the EULA.

  • There was a recent story about how most companies end up buying more than one Windows license per computer. What happens when the audit reveals that they have 1,000 Windows licenses that they're not even using, and Microsoft still wants them to pay for the 20 copies of Office that they cannot find the documentation for.

    Tactics like this could be very bad for Microsoft. When companies do these inventories, they end up with a much better understanding of how much Microsoft is costing them. Add this to the fact that the company is already feeling a bit put out, and you have a recipe for disaster.

    As a Virginian, I am most curious about how this might affect state policies and the policies of other companies in our state. I am secretly hoping that this turns out to be a PR nightmare for Microsoft. (And then maybe they'll stop tyring to force Front Page 2000 down my throat.)

  • by mgkimsal2 ( 200677 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @05:56AM (#649551) Homepage
    I wonder if they would accept simple receipts of the machines they purchased, if in fact those machines came preinstalled with the software they are currently using (Win98/NT/Office/etc).

    For example, I'm not sure where my Win98 license is, but it came preinstalled on my laptop, purchased from HP. Because you CAN'T buy this particular HP laptop WITHOUT Win98, shouldn't that be enough proof?

    Obviously we don't know where this city bought their systems from - presumably if they got Dell systems with MS stuff preinstalled, that should prove enough licensing. I'm also pretty sure that presumption would be wrong. :)

    MS just seems insidious to me regarding licensing in general. If they were REALLY concerned about piracy, wouldn't they invest in some form of copy protection? I can remember copy protection back in the days of the Apple II and C64 - (Mr Nibble, anyone?). Making unauthorized copies back then, you at least had to make *some* effort!
  • by rde ( 17364 )
    What makes you think the entire Slashdot demographic uses open source software?
    What makes you think a casual comment was meant to apply to every reader? I don't write into news progammes when they say 'the entire country was shocked' to point out that I wasn't; I simply assume that I'm in the minority as far as the audience is concerned. Similarly, the fact that I play quake on my linux box doesn't mean I should take umbrage with the good commander for daring to imply that I've got the source code for every package on every computer I own.
    This sort of deliberate misunderstanding is what makes reading RMS a pain at times; you yourself may on occasion have uttered words such as 'dogmatic'[1].
    To encapsulate: lighten up.

    [1] When I say 'you', I'm referring primarily to the original poster, but also to other readers. If you[2] didn't mutter anything along the lines of those posted above, I urge you not to take offence.
    [2]Yeah, you.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @05:58AM (#649561)
    You are prsumed to own the chairs by virtue of possession. It would be up to anyone disputing such ownership to bear the burden of proof.

    Unfortunately, it is a know fact that you do NOT own your MS software.

    Like it or not, the two situations are entirely different.
  • If you were slashdotted at the weekend I would say you have a valid point here. If you were slashdotted during the week at a time when most users are either at work or asleep then it's a different kettle of fish all together, as many workers don't have the option of what OS they run at work.

    I think many will agree though, Mozilla (it's the weekend and I'm using it now) is not as good as IE5.5 (which I use at work) on a Windoze machine.

  • by small_dick ( 127697 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @10:31AM (#649563)
    Some years ago, I saw the CEO of a medium sized corporation blanch when the contractor told him to write a check to M$HAFT for $120K+...200+ users, 8 NT servers (fairly loaded).

    This was a upgrade after about three years of the previous M$ stuff, which had cost them $80K.

    Now, imagine what happens when M$ moves forward with their goals of application rentals and the elimination of CDs (the elimination of CDs means only channel resellers have OS cds, you only get an OS with a complete system, and a replacement requires the return of the HD).

    Many companies/government orgs are not willing (or legally able) to connect their machines to the internet just to have them boot or run apps. Nor are they willing/able to send used hard drives to anyone (sensitive data).

    This gives these end users two options : buy a new machine when the hard drive fails (keeping a inventory of spares) or use free software. Note also that the license starts to apply to the physical box, not the bits of the harddrive. For the truly anal, who keep software in libraries, that's quite a bit of shelf space!

    I've seen EULAs before that allow the software company itself to enter and audit the suspect workplace. Wonder what the CIA or NSA would think of that scenario, particularly if a lot of M$ stock or management ends up moving overseas.

    What would take precedence? A court order for M$ to enter a secure/secret facility, possibly with a crew of H1B/foreign nationals, or the secret facilities' mission to protect data? Well, since most of those facilities are authorized to use deadly force, the answer is obvious...unless M$ forms a 'leet commando team or something.

  • by mcelrath ( 8027 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @10:32AM (#649564) Homepage
    Sullivan said it is the first time Microsoft has asked the Beach to account for its software. In the past year, Microsoft has targeted Virginia in its software inquiries. Last year, the company sued two retailers in Northern Virginia and two more in West Virginia for software piracy.

    Just an observation. Virginia passed the UCTIA back in Febuary. Looks like they're eating their own dogfood now.


  • Where does the State of Mississippi get off telling Virginia what to do?
  • What rights do software companies have to tell me how to use their product? Can Aiwa tell me what CDs I can play in my stereo, or Fiat tell me what petrol I can put in my car? It's a product I bought and this EULA is a piece of shit which has damaged an originally much more innovative industry, because now they can disclaim all liability for their incompetence and no-one has the guts to sue their asses off.
  • What makes you think the entire Slashdot demographic uses open source software?

    Maybe it's one of those statements that makes an assumption, both to congratulate the people it applies to and attempt to change the other people's minds, like "Thank you for not smoking!"

  • by GC ( 19160 ) <> on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:00AM (#649569)
    It wouldn't surprise me if Micro$~01 has sent that letter to every government department in the US. It's a good way to get back at them.

    Microsoft are actually quite lax with their software licensing, take NT server, install and enter "010-0123456" bingo - you're through. Same key works for SQL Server.
    I'm waiting for the day where they hit every company & institution for their due.

    I guess only open-source could hit back at this, but in my opinion Linux is just not ready for the desktop and UNIX, in general, seems to have always been a server OS or a development OS, not a PC OS.

  • by corvi42 ( 235814 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @09:24AM (#649570) Homepage Journal
    Something that I've been thinking over the last while, was how much 'efficiency' can we be getting out of computer systems. And in a society so driven by economics as ours, how long can innefficiencies be allowed to last? That being said, isn't microsoft cutting off its own ear to spite its face?

    Lets put this into perspective. Lets look a bit at the large scale, macroscopic level, not the microcosm of what seems to be the short term benefits of person a vs. person b. but the long term scale of movements and currents of society. Computers are supposed to give us more efficient means of managing our information, and so in turn they are supposed to yield greater efficiency and productivity in organizations. That's the theory, most of us never bother to question it, but its still just a theory. Microsoft achieved its power, wealth and success because little billy g once had the good insight to see something of the potential computers would have as a consumeable item. This being said, it would be in the best interests of any computer company to enhance the efficiency that computers bring, because this not only means a good product for the company in terms of short term goals, but a long term advantage that the "ecological niche" of that company - ie. the overall position of computers in society - benefits that company.

    Now if microsoft is working to make computers less productive, less efficient to the users of those computers, aren't they just working to deteriorate their own market? These forces need not even be in the computers themselves, but all the implementation and administrative costs associated with using the computers. The more they make it inefficient to use their own products - the more they will scare away their own business.

    Well, go to it, is all I can say, if that's the case, I love to see M$ digging its own grave.
  • Open a command prompt,

    net server statistics

    Counting idle time does not work, given load, and the possibility for the idle thread to represent the total across multiple cpu's.

  • Well, in the UK, Microsoft would arrive at the door accompanied by FAST (Federation Against Software Theft) and would be able to inspect every piece of computer equipment and ask for it's license.
  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:03AM (#649582) Homepage Journal
    IANAL, but I was under the impression that UCITA, which Virginia has enthusiastically signed up to, makes the clauses of every software licence enforcable and legal. Where UCITA isn't signed up to, you have the legal right to use software without agreeing to its licence (obviously, normal rules about fair use and copyright apply), but in Virginia that's not the case.

    Which in my view is hilarious. Virginia's government has signed up to UCITA, and now it's government bodies there being stiched up. Very appropriate. Hopefully if local government is brought to a halt often enough, those who insisted on pushing it through will have cause to rethink.

  • by HomerJ ( 11142 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @08:30AM (#649585)
    I thought one of the most disturbing features of the UCITA was they they could just do this remotely. They could just kill all their licences with a click of a button on their side. Saying that VA Beach was in a license violation, and pulling their licenses until they could validate everything.

    The only thing VA Beach would get is a letter, and the fact that none of their computers would boot because Microsoft would have remotely pulled all their licenses in the wee hours of the morning.

    Wait until all this really goes in to effect, and some local gov't is shut down by Microsoft. Or what about a university? or even one of Microsoft's competitors. Some company pissing Microsoft off? Teach them a lesson they won't forget by remotely pulling all their Windows liceneses. That kind of power honesly makes Bill Gates one of the most powerful people in the world? How many other companies could just go in and gind the US gov't to a halt on day-to-day operations?
  • Good post, though I'm not sure what your talking about with StarOffice
    licensing issues... I think OS X might make a UNIX-only environment
    look more attractive quite soon.
  • by small_dick ( 127697 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @10:44AM (#649588)
    Some posters have been saying "Big Deal, RMS would do this in a second if he could".

    Uh, the GPL says you can make as many copies as you want, and share them with your friends, associates, whatevuh.

    If it was just one post, I'd figure it was a troll, but with several, I figure it must be people who don't know better.

    Remember, these are end users, not developers. They probably have no issues with non-release of mixed code.

  • As a U of MD student, i want to clear something up: MS is not forcing the university to do anything. They are giving the university the option to have students pay $20 for access to all MS products. The university in turn is having every student who registers for class vote on whether or not they want to pay the $20. So far everyone ive spoken to has voted no for several reasons: 1: they dont have a computer that runs windows 2: their computer already has office and windows on it 3: they can pirate anything they want off the schools network for free. This will never go through, unless the univeristy has already decided for us, and if they have all hell will break loose.

  • What? Oh, you didn't mean the nazi thugs of the late 1930s...

    That would depend on just how 'thorough' the audit is...

  • Microsoft, like most software companies, includes contracts with its merchandise explaining that the company reserves the right to ask consumers at any time for proof of purchase and an inventory of what is being used. The rule applies not only to governments and privately owned companies but to individuals.

    Maybe the situation is different with mega-huge sites that buy site licenses, but in my experience with smaller companies (less than 100 employees) I have never seen or heard of the company ever agreeing to a license. They just buy the software; no contracts with Microsoft are ever signed. I suspect that almost no (less than 1%) computer users have ever agreed to any type of software license at all, so no software publisher has any significant auditing rights. Heck, I don't think I've ever even redistributed a GPLed program, so I haven't even bound myself to the (very friendly) terms of the GPL.

    No matter what gets written into EULAs, the powers granted to the licensor are completely illusory. (At least until something as draconian as UCITA becomes more widespread...) People just need to wake up to this fact, instead of blindly accepting the baseless assumption (spread by the software industry) that software (even commercial software) is licensed rather then purchased.

  • The question of the day is, would it cost more to pay M$ for the unaccounted-for pieces of software, or to switch to Linux?

    Well, as much as I love Linux (and I do) and other Open Source stuff I would have to say that it would probably cost WAY more to switch to Linux than it would to do an audit and throw money at Microsoft. I am certain that MS would agree to a lump-sum payment or something based on the number of computers the department is using, etc. If not there is an audit and a reconing, then it all goes back to normal for the workers.

    Compare this to the long process of retraining everyone, document conversion, in house program porting, endless configuration snags, hirings, consultants coming in (and since it's government, staying for years), etc. This isn't a five person consulting service here, it's an operation that has about 3,500 computers (from the article) that would all need to be set up, and thier users re-trained. Just the burden on Human Resources would probably be more costly than paying up.

    Now, will they consider Open Source for new systems in the future? I sure hope so. Probably they will just keep paying the piper though.


  • The IRS is accountable to someone other than shareholders. But then I remember the dark days of the IBM monopoly. Tactics like this pushed them from being the biggest game in town to just another player. Stay tuned for Bill Gates' comeuppance.
  • Even if there was some abuse, so what? Say 85% of their software is legal. Microsoft still collected HUGE profits from them. I understand that large corperations need to enforce their policys, but kicking in the teeth of their best customers isn't good. I love how large corperations have more power than the govt itself now. Shouldn't it be up to Microsoft to prove that illegal copies are being used? Innocent until proven guilty, isn't that in our Bill of Rights? Or is Gates the new "Bill" of rights? I would think that if MS had reason to believe that a law was broken, that a court order, not an Email, would be the appropriate action. I would take MS a little more seriously if they went through the hassle and expense of going through the courts, let the police collect the evidence, and do things that way. Without proof, the courts would never issue a warrent. If Va Beach submits to this audit, they are giving up their right to remain silent the moment they surrender the first report. Personally, I would tell MS to f*ck off if I was in their position. If MS was that serious, they would spend the time and money on court procedings.

  • by Destinyhawk ( 238864 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:05AM (#649605) Homepage
    Truth is, Microsoft has every right to do such an audit. Even MS is painfully aware how much their software is pirated every day, and especially larger companies or organizations are prone to buy, say, a 1000-station license when they really have over 5000 stations. Microsoft is a business, they are out to make money, and if something is denying them legitimately of their money, then power to them for enforcing their own licenses!

    The only reason such a big fuss is being made is because it's Microsoft. If it were any other company, like Corel or a smaller developer, this would never had made any news. People are going to try and use this as fuel to attack Microsoft because they're the "big bad evil empire out to enslave us all." They're just a business, simply one that is highly effective.
    - Chris
  • I know that if the company I work for ever got audited, all hell would break loose

    Well, would you prefer the alternatives such as hardware keys or licence manager software or any of multitude of the pain-in-the-ass stuff that high-end software companies do?

    In the scheme of thing Microsoft is a pretty leinant company. They send out all sorts of unlocked software and free developer licences in the hope that you'll put the stuff into production and they will eventually get paid. It's worked out rather well for both them and their customers, although in the short term it does make it easy to rip them off.

    licenses for each copy of NT Workstation 4.0 were left with the individual workstations

    Well, every company I've worked for with more than 100 employees actually site-licences Microsoft stuff. I've seen the audit procedure - someone uses "Server Manager" or "Network Neighborhood" to count up machines running different software pieces, then make an estimate for growth, and then you pay the fee and everyone's happy.

    This might sound more expensive on the face of it, and you do end up paying twice for Windows in some circumstances. But compare this to the administrative nightmare of tracking individual holograms, which it is the IT department's responsibility to do. Hell, I'd estimate that a database system to properly track individual licences would run $5000-$20000, and would require a .5 FTE just to run the damn thing. Not quite saving money. Or you could leave the holograms laying around which is just an invitation to end up paying for everything agin down the road.

    The question of the day is, would it cost more to pay M$ for the unaccounted-for pieces of software, or to switch to Linux?

    First of all, do you really have any idea what conversion costs are? If you aren't ripping Microsoft off, it's always cheaper to pay them than to convert. (The possible exception being replacing NT F+P seat licences with Samba connections, but even then you need a working domain controller...) Not to mention that in most cases, people actually *want* to run MS software, and are just lax about the licence tracking.

    The question of the day really is, how much does your company have it's shit together? If you are installing things willy-nilly and leaving licences in peoples desks, you basically just dropping the soap as far as commercial software companies are concerned.
  • "Aren't you glad you use Open Source?"

    Well, I guess you forget the Corel GPL fiasco. The grass is the same color on both sides of the fence, don't think you're any better. Both sides wish to enforce their licensing methods. Microsoft simply has more financial backing to enforce theirs
  • Your reasoning implies that nothing is a dead issue until the Supreme Court hears it. From an absolute point of view, this may be correct, since a similar lawsuit could always pop up and continue up the hierarchy. However, that the 9th Circuit declined to hear an appeal signals that they agreed that the lower court judge ruled fairly and properly, and thus his decision is precedent for future cases. The 9th Circuit's refusal to hear an appeal can also be cited, giving it nearly the same weight in court as an actual opinion from the Appeals Court.

    Do the companies want UCITA? Yes, they do. Do they want to test it? I suspect not, although I can think of a few hundred thousand regular people who would love to see a test case go before a judge. Why do the companies not want it tested? Because a court could rule against the law, striking it down, and although such a decision would almost certainly be appealed, future enforcement of the law would likely be blocked as the case made its way to a Circuit Court panel, then possibly back down to the original trial judge, then back to the panel, then on to the full court, then to the Supreme Court.

    What is the danger? By passing these individual laws, states are in danger of violating the Constitution's provision of power to Congress to regulate interstate trade. Consumer protection laws are one thing; they usually apply solely to residents of the state which passed them. However, granting additional power to companies that do not reside within a state could leave a US Supreme Court very unimpressed, and a decision knocking down, say, Virginia or Maryland's UCITA laws would allow that decision to be used to very quickly knock down every other UCITA law in the country. The companies and lobbying groups have already spent a lot of money on this; they don't want it tested so soon as to make the money a complete waste.
  • by thogard ( 43403 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:06AM (#649613) Homepage
    So not only does tax money got to buy the junk in the first place, now the state has to spend lots of time (= tax money) to protect M$ from pirate sales? This is an unfair advantage to M$ that their competitors don't have and it needs to be brought to the attention of every city atty in the country.
  • by s1r_m1xalot ( 218277 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:06AM (#649615)
    Actually I don't use open source. I use Winword, Excel, IE, etc. Now before you get your panties in a knot, it's time that the open source community stop defining itself by what it is not. Most of you read the hoax letter from "Bill Gates." The letter expressed well how defining yourself by who you are not is the wrong way to go.

    In addition, since when is Slashdot no longer "News for Nerds, Stuff that matters"? Slashdot is about posting news articles and letting the users make the inflamatory comments (such as this one) about them. The users provide the commentary, not the front-page posters.

    The fact that the timothy was willing to overlook the objective details of the story in order to get in a jab at M$, bodes ill for /. It is well within Microsoft's rights to demand an audit. It is Virginia Beach's responsibility to keep track of their software. "We have no sense of where we're going to come out" Tough cookies for them. I'm glad that the city has learned its lesson and is now actually tracking what they buy.
    Oh what a sad abuse of monopoly power when Microsoft can actually check to make sure their software is being paid for by groups!

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:12AM (#649661) Homepage Journal

    Hypothetical situation: If the City did absolutely nothing, and did not respond, wouldn't it be up to Microsoft to prove that the City held unlicensed copies of the software?

    NOPE! Failing to respond to the audit request is itself a violation of the EULA. MS would just pursue that and declare all of the licenses invalid. That's what happens when you sign a deal with the devil.

    This is a perfect example of the 'hidden' compliance costs of proprietary software. I'll bet that when they purchased the software, they didn't figure in the cost of doing the audit. The article doesn't specify if the 50 employees are dedicated solely to the audit, or if they are spending only part time on it, but that adds up fast either way. Based on their getting a one month extension and the suspension of new purchases, I'm guessing that they're spending a good percentage of their time on this.

  • by werdna ( 39029 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:18AM (#649686) Journal
    The problem here is that plaintiffs in Copyright cases have a lot of clout to demand something more than a fair settlement, particularly in clear-cut cases -- the plaintiff invariably is entitled to an award of attorney fees.

    I wonder if it is ever useful or interesting to comply with these off-the-wall demands for audits. Microsoft/BSA is simply attempting to obtain non-trade-secret free discovery, which they will use before or during any litigation to follow. At the end of the day, even those companies that comply seem to get no better treatment than those that opt to defend. Indeed, they have given up quite a bit. It is much, much easier for a plaintiff to make litigation decisions when he knows the value of the case before even beginning discovery.

    On the other hand, let's get this straight. If you are using ersatz software without permission, you are, and in my view should be, liable. It is a good idea to audit your own software use, and to stay compliant. Period. The best defense is no infringement at all. Let me say that again.

    The best defense is not to infringe.

    If you do infringe, you should expect to pay the price. The question is, at the end of the day, what price should be paid? Microsoft/BSA lawyers love to throw their weight around in clear infringement/unauthorized use cases, demanding more than a reasonable fee for the infringement, claiming that it will cost the defendant so much to get a "reasonable verdict" that they might as well pay the extortion fee. This is because a prevailing plaintiff in a Copyright action is often awarded not only the damages, but also the cost of attorney fees.

    There is an answer, however. An Eleventh Circuit case not too long ago, Jordan v. Time, Inc. [] held that because of a technicality in the Copyright Act, a defendant who makes a timely, formal "offer of judgment" under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure can turn the attorney-fee tables when the plaintiff does not collect an award greater than the offer.

    Making an offer in this fashion shifts the risk to the Plaintiff, since going to trial may result in a net award of attorney fees to the Defendant! One strategy to consider (the circumstances are different in EVERY case -- make these decisions only with advice of counsel) is to do your own due diligence with a lawyer, make an offer in writing, without agreeing to the audit. If it is rejected with a threat to sue, file your own declaratory judgment action with an offer of judgment attached. Now, they get to decide whether to risk paying YOUR legal fees prior to discovery.

    Now, do not try this at home. A Copyright case is a tremendously complex cause of action, and zillions of subtle facts can swing results entirely. You should rely on the advice of counsel you have retained before taking any action in any case -- including a decision whether or not to comply with a demand for an audit.

    But do make sure your lawyer knows about (and how to effectively use) the Jordan case to good advantage. :-)
  • by rongage ( 237813 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:19AM (#649689)
    One of the constant battlecries coming out of Redmond is that the total cost of ownership (TCO) for Microsoft products is lower than with *nix. This little stunt by Microsoft really helps drive this point home. 5 tech staffers a full month to do all the basic research, plus new computer requests being delayed. All because Microsoft *THINKS* there *MIGHT* be an invalid license somewhere in the chain? Does this sound like lower TCO to you???? If Microsoft can demand you produce documentation to support your claim of proper licensing, it sounds like they are raising the TCO intentionally.
  • by Admiral Burrito ( 11807 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @02:48PM (#649709)

    Truth is, Microsoft has every right to do such an audit. Even MS is painfully aware how much their software is pirated every day, and especially larger companies or organizations are prone to buy, say, a 1000-station license when they really have over 5000 stations. Microsoft is a business, they are out to make money, and if something is denying them legitimately of their money, then power to them for enforcing their own licenses!

    So can the FSF go to MS and say "Show us your source code so that we can audit it and determine whether or not you're using GPL software in violation of our licensing agreement"?

    FSF may not be out to make money, but that's entirely beside the point. The GPL is just as valid and legally binding as any MS license, and if anyone is violating the GPL, then power to the FSF for enforcing that license.


  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @02:52PM (#649716) Journal

    It's nice to see private industry harassing government over some stupid paperwork for a change. If Bush gets elected next Tuesday, maybe Janet Reno can come work for Bill Gates.

    So, how do you like it, government? Now you know how we feel when you get on our backs for earning money that we thought was ours, but it turned out you had a claim on it just because we couldn't present you with some stupid paperwork.

  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:27AM (#649730) Journal
    It has come to our attention that Slashdot has not registered licenses for any Microsoft products. We will be conducting an audit during December of your premises and equipment. No preparation is necessary, we will begin by reinstalling Windows 2000 on desktop machines and Windows NT on servers to ensure proper functioning of our audit tools.
  • by werdna ( 39029 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:28AM (#649731) Journal
    Ah, the City, unlike we mere mortals, may well be immune from this claim. In a fascinating (to IP lawyers, anyway) case [] last year, the Supreme Court held that the Congress does not have the power to create a cause of action for patent-holders against the States (and their agencies), notwithstanding the provisions of Article I, Section 8.

    States get to claim sovereign immunity. Since the Copyright Act is rooted in the same clause as the PAtent Act, perhaps the city can likewise claim sovereign immunity?
  • by HiyaPower ( 131263 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:39AM (#649734)
    The price of such things is one of the many hidden costs of M$ software. Even if everything is above board and legal, the price you pay to have a staff member keep a constant catalog of liccenses as folks come and go in any organization is non trivial. The loaded cost of an individual is roughly 2x to 3x their salary. The cost of an audit is on top of such a person. I really wish more folks have read the Aesop's fable of the man the horse and the wolf. They might realize what M$ is about. Diddiap dobbin...
  • by Darkstorm ( 6880 ) <lorddarkstorm@ h o t m a> on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:34AM (#649765)
    Well, the M$ hit squad has already sent my company a letter wanting to come in and check our computers. This letter was followed by a letter from microsoft. I work for a small consulting company and all the programming, almost always, is done at the client site. So out of the couple machines and the laptop my boss uses there are not that many machines.

    The thing that scares me most about this is that if we let them come in, which at the moment is the last option on the list. what else will they see? As far as windows goes the machines there were preloaded with winblows and are completely leagal, but what if they see the large mass of mp3's on the machines? Or what type of other info will they be looking for while they are there. I suspect they would look for employee and client information to make sure they don't miss anyone.

    I guess all the leagal battles with the govt has cause bill to feel his profits are not as high as he wants and figures he can rake more money in this way.

    Our options at this moment are:
    1) have our lawyer send a "go screw yourself" letter to M$'s hit squad.
    2) put linux on all the machines, and let them come in (this is my favorite)
    3) see if we can find more companies in the area and start a class action suit against them.

    I'm glad this hit /. since I'm very curious about what others people here think about it and what ideas you have. Maybe someone has some better leagal info on what can be done.

  • by HiyaPower ( 131263 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:45AM (#649770)
    Given that they have run this story, I doubt that /. will run a story that I submitted at about the same time. The University of Maryland at Diamondback is going to try and tax every student to have access to M$ products and updates. Read about it here [] This is an effort to make sure that there is compliance with M$ liscensing. No matter if you don't even have a computer, you are presumed guilty of infringement and must pay up. Linux or not, you gotta send money to unka Bill... Somehow I think that this is beyond the pale...
  • by e_n_d_o ( 150968 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @12:30PM (#649789)
    We tried having the NT-SysAdmins enter that somehow valid license key "010-0123456", but they just got confused and frustrated and wound up running away from the servers at this step into a dark corner where they'd typically be found scarfing down bananas at an unbelievable rate.

    Since we switched to using 111-1111111 (which also works just as well), the NT admins have been much happier, need less counseling, and the cages need to be cleaned less often.
  • by Masem ( 1171 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @07:29AM (#649804)
    UCITA basically gives strength to click through licenses. What if, in every WinXX OS cd license, there was a phrase, "By agreeing to this license, Microsoft may demand that you prove your ownership of this license at any time at your expense." Is there any fair comparison to non-software items whereby the *company* can demand to prove ownership? (The police can, but they have been given that responsibility). This gives software makers law-enforcement powers, which they should not even begin to think they have.

  • a supported copy of Windows 2000

    Have you ever tried to get support from Microsoft? They make you call long distance to Redmond to speak to underpaid help desk staff they pulled off the streets of Seattle. (Well, actually, from the area's numerous temp agencies, but there's not much difference.)

    If you want to speak to someone who knows what they're doing, you have to pay per incident, or have a prepaid contract which gets you X number of incidents per time period.

    Don't believe me? Read it for yourself. [] And good luck getting an answer out of M$. At least with Linux I can find the answer to just about anything in ten minutes or less, without spending a dime.

  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Saturday November 04, 2000 @06:52AM (#649816)
    Windows 95 can recover quite easily from bad shutdowns, Linux can't...

    I have been using both systems since 1995, and it's the first time I hear this. In my experience, it's perfectly OK to turn the PC off anytime with both systems. Both will run a disk check the next time the PC is powered up, and fix some small errors. The only difference is that Windows 95 will ask you some questions, while Linux fixes everything automatically.

    Uptime is not a desktop client feature

    It is for me. I hate the time lost resetting the machine, and waiting for the boot process, and telling it to fix the directory, and telling it, no, I DON'T want to be able to recover whatever garbage the scandisk fixed, etc, everytime when I get a Blue Screen Of Death.

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.