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IE 7 beta: Read the fine print

Now, we're all used to just clicking "next" when we install new software.

That's a bad idea in general. First, many software programs today have incredibly invasive default settings that give the software permission to do everything short of audit your tax returns. Second, these days it is probably a good idea to skim over the details to know how your private information will or won't be handed over to any government that asks to take a peek.

In that spirit, I gave a quick read of the end-user license agreement that accompanies the public beta of Internet Explorer 7. The IE 7 license agreement is both humorous and disturbing.

Funny is the introduction, which begins by thanking the user for "choosing Microsoft."

"Everyone on the IE team (even the lawyers who reviewed the license terms below) wants to make your web browsing experience safer and easier," the agreement says.

From there, it gets pretty unfunny pretty quick.

Users agree that they will only use the software on a properly licensed Windows XP machine with Service Pack 2. (A couple steps later, Microsoft requires Windows Genuine Advantage validation to confirm this)

Even more ominous are Microsoft's warnings and limitations.

"The software is licensed 'as-is,' Microsoft warns in all-capital letters. "Services and information are provided 'as-is' and 'as available.' You bear the risk of using them."

But you really shouldn't be using the software on a real PC anyway.

"You may not test the software in a live operating environment unless Microsoft permits you to do so under another agreement."

Roughly translated, that means anyone can download the new browser, but most of us aren't supposed to be using it, apparently.

In the spirit of living dangerously, this blog was written in IE 7 (for test purposes only, of course).

Update: Some readers are appropriately noting that this is a beta release, therefore Microsoft's cautionary language is only natural.

That's true, but betas have taken on a somewhat different meaning in the Internet world than in traditional software. We have grown immune to the "beta" label that appears on all sorts of software from Yahoo, Google and MSN, in some cases for years. Perhaps a better approach would have been to just point out, when they say "beta" for IE 7, they mean "beta."