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Microsoft backtracks on Vista transfer limits

Amid outcry from tech enthusiasts, Microsoft says it will allow retail Windows buyers unlimited license transfers to a different PC.

REDMOND, Wash.--Reversing a licensing change announced two weeks ago, Microsoft said on Thursday that it will not limit the number of times that retail customers can transfer their Windows Vista license to a different computer.

On Oct. 16, Microsoft issued the new user license for Vista, including terms that would have limited the ability of those who buy a boxed copy of the operating system to transfer that license. Under the proposed terms, users could have made such a switch only one time.

However, the new restriction prompted an outcry among hardware enthusiasts and others. Microsoft is returning the licensing terms to basically what they were in Windows XP--users can transfer their license to a new PC an unlimited number of times, provided they uninstall and stop using it on the prior machine.

The software maker said it paid attention to the response both directly to the company and on blogs and decided to reverse course. Microsoft had hoped to use the change to aid its ongoing efforts to thwart piracy.

"We're trying to be really clear about our intention to prevent piracy," said Microsoft product manager Mike Burk. "At the same time, after listening to the feedback that came in, (we) felt that we needed to make this change."

By reversing course, Burk said, Microsoft hoped to assuage users' concerns, particularly those of hobbyists who frequently upgrade the components of their PC, in some cases triggering Windows to consider the machine a new PC.

The plan to limit transfers was part of a series of changes to the terms that apply to boxed copies of Vista, not to the license that comes on a new, Vista-equipped PC. Separate rules apply for the versions of Windows installed on new PCs, which is how the majority of buyers get their copy of Windows. Typically, copies of Windows purchased on a new PC cannot legally be transferred to another PC.

Burk said that Microsoft isn't planning to back off any of its other planned licensing changes, including a move related to virtualization, in which a computer runs multiple operating systems, or multiple copies of the same operating system, at the same time.

Under those new license terms, any Windows version can serve as the primary, or host, operating system. However, only the Business and Ultimate editions of Vista can run as guest operating systems in virtualization.

"We're not planning on making any other changes," Burk said. "We'll keep listening to people's feedback."