Windows 10 license confirms no-warning automatic updates and upgrades

One of the most interesting clauses in the EULA relates to the new update and upgrade practice that debuts with Windows 10. In previous editions of Windows users were able to pick and choose which individual updates to download and install, but in Windows 10 each update is a whole, and cannot be split apart, taking some and refusing others.

The license agreement for Windows 10 is, like the OS itself, a different kind of beast, with new clauses that spell out automatic updates, the bundling of Office and what happens when a user tries to upgrade from a pirated copy.

Ed Bott of ZDNet first reported on the apparent final form Windows 10 EULA (end user licensing agreement) Thursday.

As Bott concluded, there are no real surprises in the Windows 10 EULA -- all the information there had been disclosed by Microsoft prior -- but nor does the agreement answer outstanding questions, including how long the firm will support the new OS.

The EULA, which appears during the Windows 10 setup, can also be read after the fact by clicking "Settings" in the Start menu, selecting "System" and then choosing the "About" option on the left. Clicking the link "Read the Microsoft Software License Terms" brings up the EULA.

Computerworld examined the EULA included with Windows 10 build 10240, the version pushed to beta test participants Wednesday. Although Microsoft has not officially declared 10240 as the "release to manufacturing" (RTM) milestone, most pundits and analysts have agreed that it is what Microsoft will deliver to customers starting July 29.

One of the most interesting clauses in the EULA relates to the new update and upgrade practice that debuts with Windows 10. In previous editions of Windows users were able to pick and choose which individual updates to download and install, but in Windows 10 they are all-or-nothing, minus the nothing: Each update is a whole, and cannot be split apart, taking some and refusing others. And updates must eventually be accepted, or Microsoft will shut off the security patch faucet.

Two of Microsoft's new mainstream update/upgrade tracks, called "branches" -- the consumer-grade "Current Branch" (CB) and the business-oriented "Currant Branch for Business (CBB) -- both operate that way. The exceptions: Corporations running Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Enterprise can manage updates using the veteran Windows Server Update Service (WSUS) software, or a third-party patch management product; and shops running Windows 10 Enterprise may adopt a hands-off branch called the "Long-term Servicing Branch" (LTSB).

To account for the update philosophy shift, Microsoft has added new language to the Windows 10 EULA.

"The software periodically checks for system and app updates, and downloads and installs them for you," reads the EULA's section 6. "You may obtain updates only from Microsoft or authorized sources, and Microsoft may need to update your system to provide you with those updates. By accepting this agreement, you agree to receive these types of automatic updates without any additional notice" [emphasis added].

In plain English, Windows 10's updates will omit the options in earlier editions that let users delay or indefinitely ignore an individual fix or change, leaving only one that lets users schedule necessary restarts to better fit their own schedules. (Windows 10 Pro, and probably Windows 10 Enterprise as well -- Computerworld was unable to confirm the latter -- also let customers adopt a slower "ring," or update cadence, within the CBB by selecting "Defer upgrades" from the "Advanced options" pane of the Windows Update window. A "Learn more" link displays text that reads in part, "When you defer upgrades, new Windows features won't be downloaded or installed for several months.")

Another clause new to Windows 10 -- section 1/b/v -- spells out the use rights of Office if it's pre-installed on a new device. "To the extent included with Windows, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are licensed for your personal, non-commercial use, unless you have commercial use rights under a separate agreement." the EULA stated.

Microsoft will include the four Office apps on some devices and/or bundle them with some editions of Windows 10; Microsoft has not announced the details of such bundling, however.

On Wednesday the company revealed that it will bundle the Office for Windows 10 touch-centric apps -- Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word -- with some devices or Windows SKUs (stock-keeping units) in revised licensing agreements for the apps. "If you acquired the software preinstalled on your device, the Microsoft Software License Terms you agreed to for Windows Operating System ('Windows OS License Terms') apply to your use of the Office Mobile Apps software," those agreements read.

The "separate agreement" referenced in the Windows 10 EULA is a euphemism for an active business-grade Office 365 subscription, like Office 365 Business Premium ($12.50 per user per month) or Office 365 Enterprise E4 ($20).

Microsoft also includes a no-you-pirates-don't-get-a-free-ride clause in the Windows 10 EULA, backing up statements it made earlier this year about the one-year free upgrade deal for customers currently running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.

"Updating or upgrading from non-genuine software with software from Microsoft or authorized sources does not make your original version or the updated/upgraded version genuine, and in that situation, you do not have a license to use the software," the EULA reads. "Certain updates, support, and other services might only be offered to users of genuine Microsoft software," the license states elsewhere.

That first bit was consistent with what Microsoft said in May when, after first telling pirates they could upgrade to Windows 10, it laid down the law. "Our free offer to upgrade to Windows 10 will not apply to non-genuine Windows devices," said Terry Myerson, now the head of the company's Windows and Devices Group. "Non-genuine" is Microsoft-speak for illegal copies.

Absent from the EULA is any mention of how long Microsoft will provide updates and upgrades to Windows 10 after it's installed or purchased, one of the biggest questions still remaining. The omission, however, wasn't a surprise: Microsoft has not spelled out what it calls the "support lifecycle" of Windows in prior editions' EULAs, including Windows 7 and 8.1.

So far, the most Microsoft has said -- and that was tucked into a footnote on PowerPoint slides aimed at Wall Street analysts -- is that it will update and upgrade the new OS for between two and four years, with the timeline dependent on "customer type," likely a reference to the edition, say, Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro.

A Microsoft spokesman confirmed the two-to-four-year stretch, saying in an email exchange last week that, "The upgrades will be for [the] life of device, which we estimate to be 2 to 4 years." But the company has not detailed exactly who gets just two years of updates and upgrades, who gets four, and who gets something in-between.

Microsoft has also not yet refreshed its Windows lifecycle support page to include Windows 10.

Other sections of the Windows 10 EULA lay out transfer rights -- whether the OS can be moved to another device -- and "downgrades," the right to install an older edition of Windows on a new device that came with Windows 10. Both of those sections are identical to prior editions' licenses: Users can downgrade from Windows 10 Pro only, for example, and then only to Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8.1 Pro.

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