Microsoft Tries to Patent a Crippled Baseline OS

Microsoft is applying for a patent for an operating system that starts out crippled. You must pay to do things like take the throttle off network speed, disk access, install drivers, install software, and more. Trust me, I rarely even visit Groklaw, even if this is my second consecutive blog entry with a link to a Groklaw article. My readers posted the article, A Brave New Modular World, and I had to share it.

As the article states, the fact that Microsoft is attempting to patent a cripple technique isn't the real story. It is more likely Microsoft is applying for this patent in order to float the idea and see what kind of reaction it gets. Regardless, if Vista is any indicator, it seems very realistic that the next version of Windows will implement something like this. Vista already shifts into throttled cripple mode if it detects what it believes is pirated video. The idea behind this patent is that the next Windows could start in cripple mode, and the only way to get it to perform normally is to pay Microsoft to unlock "features" that most right-thinking people assume the operating system should provide by default.

The article paints a scenario where this could actually discourage people from switching to Linux from Windows. After all, Dr. Stupid opines, if you pay for a 3 year subscription to unlock the throttling and get access to updates, you'd want to get your money's worth and stick with Windows for 3 years.

Here's a question for you: Assuming Microsoft follows through with this plan or something like it, do you think this would really lock people in? Or would it drive people to Linux (or just about anything else besides Windows)?

(Disclaimer: is totally non-profit, and I have no association with Groklaw, so the links are not obfuscated plugs.)


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The latter!

linen's picture

Uh... definitely the latter. Who the heck is going to want to pay an expensive 'license' to do things that the operating system should do anyway?
I mean, if you buy a notebook with Windows on (which is probably the way most Windows users -or, end users at least, get their Windows license) you're going to expect it to have everything you need. Or, you're going to expect the price to include the 'license' for certain features, and expect the price to still be quite low.
If not, and if Linux can do it, then who is going to bother with Windows? Really? Microsoft actually has far less control of the market than they would like. Because, in the end, even notebook manufacturers would drop them for the cheaper and more convenient operating system. Does Microsoft not remember the original idea behind Windows anyway? That is, creating a cheap operating system that works on ANY machine and that can easily be used?
Looks like they may have turned their back on their original dream... They can have their patent, other OS developers will just release an OS that doesn't need to ever be 'crippled.'


Designplace's picture

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Image Sharing's picture

I wonder ho many patents Microsft has registered?
Is there any way to find the same?


Nardo's picture

all i see is bill gates used to be a techie geek until he figured out he needed cash to attain mighty geekness...he has evolved into a business geek man.what u goin' to do about it? linux has a chunk of the market who believe in the products you have, explore your resources man...

The Big Picture

Donald Norman's picture

I think that the focus is on the wrong point here. My first thought, as I read the article was that the patent is intended to control someone elses operating system.

The patent seems to, in an off-hand way, describe the manner in which a Linux OS is built. If MS could patent the process of modulating an OS could they not claim infringment and threaten business with lawsuits?

More than anything I see MS trying to fend off businesses moving to a better desktop OS. After all it is the business world that decides what the default in computing is. If IBM turned all of its' desktops over to RH or SUSE how long would it be before their employees see the benefit? If the federal government were to switch...?

I see this as more of what the MS, Novell marriage is all about.

Anonymous's picture

It's not "if" but "when" since their Microsoft contract has been cancelled it appears they will not be moving to Vista.

However it is also uncertain they will move to Redhat either exclusively.,1895,1901914,00.asp

seems a fairly level playing field to me.


it is gddmn private product

johnny's picture

Whatever you think should or not should be in an operating system by default is still your own opinion. It might be valid or not, it doesn't matter. What matters is that windows OS is a privat product. It's a privat propper and it's not yours untill you pay for it. It is produced by private means, development payed with private money, not with taxpayers money and thus not public property. I don't see why should they have to give away part or all of their product for free, or cheap price? It is theirs and let them have it :) - who cares. We are linux users - right?

It is definitely rule of market economy and democracy - they have right to do whatever they want with their product. They have right to sell it for whatever price they want or any part or parts they wish. If you don't like it don't buy it, but don't go around wiening and crying about microsoft being such or that. Nobody presses you to buy or use windows. You can put your computer from parts of find one without system preinstalled.

And for original title of the article, if ms wants a pattent for cippling features who really cares? As being a linux user and open source believer I really don't see relevance of that particle for opensource world. It is hardly believable that kernel will suddenly come to be crippled so that we are suddenly suffering of fact that ms has some patent for crippling features or such.

Private porduct

Anonymous's picture

'It's a privat propper and it's not yours untill you pay for it.'

Actually, it is not yours, even if you do pay. You only pay for permission to use it.

A matter of principle, and stranglehold

Jantman's picture

I do believe this has an impact on the open source world. Whether you think that the Novell-MS deal was made in heaven or hell, you have to admit that MS is a big force, and matters throughout computing. At the very least, Windows is probably what 99% of the end users will be using... for a unfortunately long time.

As to the crippling technology - As far as I'm concerned, it's downright illegal. I see this as being like advertising a car with power doors and windows. When the customer finds that they don't work, "Oh, we never said they WORKED, they're installed. If you want them to work, that'll be another $5,000."

Perhaps the largest issue here is microsoft's stranglehold on the desktop computing market. The majority of people aren't ready to go to Linux... and Linux isn't ready for the majority of people. The inherent problem is that whatever microsoft sells, 80% of users will assume is "the way it's done" or "the only option". Most users are not aware of Linux and its' capabilities and ideology, nor are they aware of current trends in the IT world. If you put a crippled windows on the shelf, most people will just assume that's how all "new" software is, and won't even think to complain.

On the other hand, desktop users are like a herd of cattle running towards a cliff. Most of them have started running towards M$ ... err... the cliff... and will continue. The few of us around the edges might be able to get out before it's too late, but the majority neither know something is wrong, nor do they want to leave the herd.

M$ is smart

play games online free's picture

>> Most users are not aware of Linux and its' capabilities and ideology, nor are they aware of current trends in the IT world. If you put a crippled windows on the shelf, most people will just assume that's how all "new" software is, and won't even think to complain.

Sad but true statement so it begs the question, why doesn't someone just market Linux. In the real world, it's not the best product that is popular, it's the most marketed and I must M$ has been good at that

Microsoft Tries to Patent a Crippled Baseline OS

gareth's picture

havent they done that already,showing "aero graphics"! on commercials
and not providing on the vista home basic,and asking for £70 for the upgrade.they are already on that road....

Microsoft already do this

Anonymous's picture

Microsoft already do this between XP pro and home.

In XP you can use RDP for remote desktop if you pay for upgrading to Pro, however it can be enabled in Home with a few registry hacks.


Downright illegal

Nicholas Petreley's picture

"As far as I'm concerned, it's downright illegal."

IANAL, so I don't know if it's illegal or not. But as I think I said elsewhere, I smell class action lawsuit if MS actually tries to ship this as a default OS on PCs. So we'd find out if it's illegal or not. ;)

Do you have a dictionary and an english grammer book?

Just watching the game's picture

It is not about their private product.

It is about your (our) private hardware.

It is about FREEDOM in this new world.

The general public is not computer literate on the operating system level.

They are VICTIMS of the manipulation of the product channels that market (brainwash) and provide the computer hardware, software, and operating system in a package that is turn-key and ready to go.

Microsoft is a master of the legal software game. They have demonstrated to the world time and again that technology moves faster than law, governments, and regulators. They have taken advantage of this difference in time, the "Law-Time Lag", and made it the cornerstone of their businss model.

Microsoft has explioted every legal aspect that you can think of when it comes to getting something done with a computer.

Microsoft does not have better software or higher ethics, they have a ruthless legal department and founders that guide it into its next slick con game on the end user that is dependent on the computer to get through life.

And the biggest JOKE of all, is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

They extort all that money through these con games and then act like "moral heros" with high ethics and deep pockets.

The joke is on them.

They think they are on the "high road", while they continue to construct their super highway to hell.


The world has been watching, and even Bill can't spin history.

I don't know what planet you have been on for the last 20 years, but it has come to the attention of Nicholas and most right thinking people that there is a very ugly con game going on and this article is a way to shine a light on the latest chapter.

You should thank Nicholas for having the guts to take a stand and you should read more of his articles to get a better perspective.

A Controlled Environment

Common Sense's picture

You find it when you build high performance racing engines, when you paint cars, and when you build micro-processors.

You find it at Novell when they took SuSE into one to perfect it into

And of course you find it at Microsoft.

When Microsoft took an interest in SeSE Linux last fall it was because Novell had taken SuSE into the "clean room" (a controlled enviroment)
and perfected it. It was now a threat to the desktop market.

The two major advantages to the controlled environment approach are
"code security" and "team direction".

"Code security" works against moles that want to plant a bug in the center of the hood of your new paint job (by mistake of course).

"Team direction" makes better use of everybodys valuable time.

Technology moves fast. Development has to move faster.

For years, Linux has grown like a wild weed all over the planet.

Now you want to be the lawn on the cover of Home and Garden.

Novell figured out how to be that lawn.

If we don't agree with the values and ethics of CONmen, then the Linux community had better stop using the "shotgun" approach.

If you had not noticed, the CONmen have a sniper rifle and a big scope.

Make Linux easier to use.

Work together in a controlled environment to perfect distributions.

Do more user testing.

Make sure every printer that Walmart sells is supported.(then cameras and ipods, forget the games - don't they have wii xbox ...whatever)

Stop going off on tangents.


Your "window of opportunity" is now open with vista.

Run, don't walk, but please, RUN IN THE SAME DIRECTION !

Welcome to thin client land

Anonymous's picture

Remember when Microsoft ranted against thin clients and advocated a "rich" fat client model? Well, the cut down modular OS they are now attempting to patent is actually a thin client but one where to obtain the "rich" interface, you have to keep on giving till it hurts.

Cripple and fulll of holes

erich's picture

With Microsoft in control of the market for so long it doesn’t surprise me that they would try something like this to further keep their grasp on the public. I work with people who know how to use a computer but barely understand the inner workings of how software works or what other options are available. I recently took an interest in Linux after using Vista test versions and I am beginning to see the major flaws in the new Windows OS. With an OS that is almost 30 gigs in size is asking to have a lot of problems as well as become a major security threat to consumers. An OS of this size will be a major target of hackers. Building an OS with flaws doesn’t seem too distant from what Microsoft is trying to accomplish now. With so much control of proprietary software that people use all the time it will just become more and more difficult for people to switch to something else. As the GUI of Linux become easier to use and software becomes easier to install I think people may see the advantage Linux operating systems. Right now what I see with Vista is just a bigger version of XP because they haven’t changed the computing experience at all but in turn have actually made it harder to use.

Is this similar to MS Office Academic version?

Nelson Garcia's picture

I think MS has been doing something like this for years with its academic versions of MS Office suite. When I bought mine in 2000, it would only let me run it 50 times unless I called MS and got a code to unlock it. After that, I couldn't move it to another computer and it would never permanently install certain features and require the original CD every single time that I wanted to run certain "special" features (like help).
Eventually, I loaded it on my Linux laptop where it runs a lot better under Crossover Office.
Moral of the story: this should be a win for Linux.
While they are at it, MS should patent blue screens, annoying animated "assistants", the dollar sign, press releases, and intellectual property rights for a concept called "somebody else's idea".

This is very different

Nicholas Petreley's picture

This isn't like shareware style of crippled application that requires you to register it to continue using it. This is an OS that throttles back the capability of your hardware unless you pay Microsoft for the privilege of using the hardware's innate capabilities. That's right - the hardware you bought won't work the way it's supposed to work unless you pay Microsoft.

I think you're right (or hope anyway) that this would drive people to Linux. The only way Microsoft could even hope to avoid that is to get OEMs to build the throttling into the BIOS and then block the ability to install Linux because the BIOS sees it as unapproved software. That would force people to replace the BIOS before installing Linux, which would be a major hassle. But again, this is all academic, IMO. I don't think even Microsoft would be so insane as to try to make this fly.

Outright Black Mail..

hardwyrd's picture

.. thats what it is. With this "technology" that MS is going to have will put unwilling users as hostage.

"This is an OS that throttles back the capability of your hardware unless you pay Microsoft for the privilege of using the hardware's innate capabilities. That's right - the hardware you bought won't work the way it's supposed to work unless you pay Microsoft."

You bought the hardware. Supposedly, you can do anything you want with it. Now MS wants to take that liberty and milk your pockets till you're dry as the desert sand.

I'd wait for ReactOS if I want to have a Win-like OS for gaming only (cant afford consoles). I'd stick with my free OS and applications. Thank you!

Re: This is very different

roaima's picture

Quote, "The only way Microsoft could even hope to avoid that is to get OEMs to build the throttling into the BIOS and then block the ability to install Linux because the BIOS sees it as unapproved software"

This is exactly what TPM was designed to do, except it would potentially start at a layer below even the BIOS (references: "NGSCB" & "Palladium"). Although the original project was allegedly shelved, it seems to have reared its head again under the guise of Vista's "BitLocker".


Marketing will spin this as security enhanced OS...

Pedro's picture

and current users will see that this "innovation" adds "value" to their "computing experience" and so it's worth paying for, no matter the restrictive EULA, DRM, closed file formats, etc.

Most MS software users I know would rather "upgrade" to this sort of system than changing to something else, OS X, GNU/Linux, whatever - they are already locked in.

If people really want this, and I can see the need for something like this in business environments, all that is mentioned in the article is achievable today - Linux is a modular kernel, SELinux can be used to lock the configuration, source code is available to do custom builds and add missing pieces if required. This is mostly a configuration management/system administration task. And it seems it can be patented...

For what it's worth

Nicholas Petreley's picture

I don't think an OS like this would ever ship. Imagine your average consumer who buys a PC and then finds out the drive speeds and network speeds are throttled back by the OS unless they pay Microsoft for the privilege of running the hardware at its rated speed. IANAL, but I would think that would lead to a class action suit. We (readers of LJ) know that you don't HAVE to run Windows, but many consumers simply run whatever OS the PC has preloaded, and I think it's reasonable for consumers to expect the hardware to work as advertised when you plug it in.

I'm just amazed that anyone would even float this as an idea. I am disgusted with the limitations of things like the iPod/iTunes, but at least one could argue that these limitations are in place to prevent piracy. It's not a good argument, and not one I support because it also limits fair use. But it's not just an arbitrary limitation. Throttling back the hard drives, network speed, etc., is just insane. There's no justification for it other than "we found a way to make money by forcing customers to pay us to use the hardware the way it was designed".

The majority wants to be cheated, I'm afraid

Wolfgang Rosner's picture

For me personally, this is no problem: I'm running linux as desktop for three years now, and an old laptop with WIN 98 for the decreasing minority of win-only-software, such as tax program. And as soon I find time (and pressing need), I'll check the new wine versions - sounds promising, what the guys are doing there.

But the human race seems to be genetically herd orientated - presumably closely related to the lemmings. Is there any other explanation, considering the myriad of still-outlook-users in the light of dozens of viruses each day in everybodys mailbox?

Microsoft seems to be quite successful in testing the maximum pain limit that people need to start thinking - and keep their fees and deliberate discomforts just below. No questions - how bad their program and OS design ever may be, their strategists do a perfect job.

Or just install Qemu and run

Anonymous's picture

You can also install Qemu and run your Win98 in a virtual machine. No need to dual boot or keep a second box around. Just launch your apps in a window on your current desktop. Not the best solution for games, mind you, since it's not the fastest solution, but it will run on a modern system about as fast as your old system.

VMWare Server

Anonymous's picture

VMWare Server


linux me's picture

I use crossover, wine has lots of problem installing on the lated fedora core 6, it worked for me on fedora core 5. crossover works fine but it is not free.

This is nothing new

Anonymous's picture

This is not a new idea, so the patent probably won't fly. IBM used to do the same sort of thing.

The difference

Nicholas Petreley's picture

IBM did something similar. It throttled back the speed of the CPU. But the reason was that IBM didn't want its PC hardware competing with its own higher-powered hardware. That's no excuse, and I slammed IBM hard for doing that. But it wasn't a scheme to make people pay IBM to take off the throttle. It was a scheme to encourage people to buy a more expensive computer from IBM. Anyone who knew what was going on simply bought an IBM PC clone.

Microsoft's plan isn't to get you to buy a faster PC. It's to get you to pay Microsoft so that your PC will work the way it's supposed to work.

If Microsoft is stupid enough to implement this, hopefully people will do to Microsoft what people did to IBM. They'll simply buy the "clone", which in this case would be something like Linux or a Mac. Preferably, Linux pre-loaded on the same PC.

For that reason, I actually hope Microsoft implements this scheme. Maybe it would create the pressure necessary to get OEMs to pre-load Linux in a big way.

I'm moving to Linux

Political Penguin's picture

Been reading your entries for about 6 months now. Always a good read and illuminating into a field that I've been dabbling for the last few years and switching back and forth between various Linux distros and Windows but I have to say that with the emergence of Vista, that's it, I'll keep the old XP machine for a few things but I for one have no desire to ever move to Vista, my Ubuntu system is up and running on an admittedly older PC and in pure performance terms is light year faster, more stable and reliable than my better spec XP machine. Only one gripe, can't get sound through Firefox, but never mind, one day I'll probably work that out. On the upside I am doing my bit withinthe political sphere in the UK to promote OSS in general and Linux as a preferred OS which it is encouraging to see a lot of schools here switching to.

Sound for Firefox

Anonymous's picture

Political Penquin try using MPlayer and the MPlayer plug-in for Firefox. Don't get me started on the DRM. I have a friend that digitized all of his movies from his camcorder using Windows and now after re-installing the OS and restoring his camcorder files, he can't play any of them because they were encrypted using a key from the old Windows install.

sound in ff

passing commentary's picture

Political Penguin: try

Vista is already crippled. Avi's that I could watch in xp and linux won't play on vista. I even tried copying the codecs over from an xp installation. Apparently Vista knows better. It is legal to rip avi's from dvd's you own in this country and thats exactly what I did.
Did it decide it was illegal, how did it do that? Who did it talk to find out and what did it tell them? Should I now expect a threatening letter for doing something that is legal?
Screw M$ - vista partition deleted and reformatted with ext3.

Actually, I believe it is illegal

Anonymous's picture

I believe the fact that you have to circumvent the DVD encryption makes ripping DVDs illegal under the DMCA, sort of a technicality that eliminates fair use with DVDs. I could be wrong about that, but would like to hear if there's some reason this might be legal on some operating systems.

The DMCA is an American law

Anonymous's picture

The DMCA is an American law and does not apply outside of the U.S.A. Although some countries may have an equivalent, not all do.

I think it's illegal

Nicholas Petreley's picture

I think it's illegal, but I plan to make some DVD copies one of these days. I only have a couple DVDs that I really care about keeping, and I resent the idea that I would have to buy them twice if they got scratched. I can't imagine that anyone would take legal action against a person who makes a copy for a backup, but I believe it's technically illegal because you had to bypass the copy protection.

I never seem to get around to making copies, and fortunately none of my DVDs have been damaged, but I had to buy a second copy of two PS2 games because the original disks got damaged. I have one of those disk repair thingies, but it didn't work for these two games (it has worked for others). I wish I'd taken the time to put a mod chip in my PS2 in order to make it possible to play backups of games. It's really annoying to buy games twice.

The kids play the Gamecube more than the PS2 but I don't think there is a way to backup Gamecube games.


Greece Hotels's picture

I think as long as you own the original disc, then you are allowed to be able to make backups of these discs. I have some DVDs that I really love, and recently made back ups of these, and now the originals are nice and safe in their dvd covers, whilst I just use the backups now. In the past, I have really screwed up several of my original DVDs, and now make backups of those that i often watch.

IBM did this decades ago

Anonymous's picture

IBM did this decades ago with their 360 and 370 series...
You want a divide? That costs $X a month...
Microcode emulation or the real thing. No extra hardware or software just a crippled flag.