Microsoft Gets Patent on OS-Disabling Technology

Microsoft recently received a U.S. patent on technology that can restrict software and hardware use on a computer.

The invention is part of an operating system that makes "selected portions and functionality of the operating system unavailable to the user or by limiting the user's ability to add software applications or device drivers to the computer," according to the patent description, which was published on Tuesday.

The patent appears related to Microsoft's future marketing plans, according to Michael Cherry, vice president of research, at the Directions on Microsoft analyst firm.

"It appears to me that the patent will give Microsoft exclusive rights to a way of upgrading an OS and allow users to choose a set of functionalities according to their needs," Cherry said in a telephone interview. "Although reported descriptions of the patent -- intentionally crippling the functionality of an operating system -- are harsh, it makes sense for Microsoft to offer a stratified OS, rather than go the Apple route."

According to Microsoft's patent, computers manufactured with a general purpose open architecture allow users to make modifications, such as adding software that is not supported by the manufacturer. "Virtually anyone can write an application that can be executed on the system," the patent complains. Consequently, apps or devices may not operate due to compatibility issues and many end users will associate those malfunctions with the manufacturer.

Open architecture systems ultimately may cost the user more because functionality in the OS "may be beyond the need or desire of the system purchaser," the patent adds. Microsoft's technology would allow users to upgrade OS functionality via a digitally signed identifier or "hash value" in exchange for "a sum of money."

Microsoft is mum on how this patented technology will work in its operating systems.

"Patent #7536726 was originally filed on May 9, 2000 and was awarded to Microsoft by the US Patent Office on May 19, 2009," said a Microsoft spokesperson by e-mail. "While we will not comment on how it is being specifically deployed and in which products, the patent itself provides a detailed description of the invention."

Microsoft has previously described a similar technology in Windows 7 associated with product upgrades. The new OS is still at the release candidate testing stage, but it's expected to let users easily upgrade to more expensive editions when available as a product. Users will get all of the bits in each edition of Windows 7, but access to certain features depends on the edition purchased. Upgrades to other editions will be accomplished by simply buying an activation key from Microsoft.

About the Author

Herb Torrens is an award-winning freelance writer based in Southern California. He managed the MCSP program for a leading computer telephony integrator for more than five years and has worked with numerous solution providers including HP/Compaq, Nortel, and Microsoft in all forms of media.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Jun 1, 2009 ricegf Texas

Microsoft - selling intentionally crippled operating systems since 2000.

Sun, May 31, 2009 Chris Missouri

In response to the person above who said "Would you just quit threatening to go to linux and DO IT" that's precisely what I did last weekend. Ubuntu 9.04 exclusively. Windows XP now runs in a virtual machine. It's a free world - Microsoft is just too arrogant to think that they're not the only game in town.

Fri, May 29, 2009

"Virtually anyone can write an application that can be executed on the system," the patent complains. OH NO! Choice? Competition? Freedom to use your computer as you wish?! That'll never do....

Fri, May 29, 2009 Tom Philo Beaverton, Oregon

The goal is to ensure that only allowed and correctly written software is installed onto an OS. Thus if a badly written program that must run as Administrator is trying to be installed onto a system by a user it cannot and is blocked by the OS itself. MS states that to find out if the OS is at fault or the app you should have an OOB install of the OS running fine and then JUST install that app and see if the problem comes up - if it does then it is the APP and NOT the OS. I can see them then going somewhat the Apple route - every app must be tested - by paying MS - before being allowed to be installed. If you cannot install a bad app then there will not be problems with the OS.

Fri, May 29, 2009 JimL Not there

Interesting that this large company filed a patent for this technology. Since the patent is in the public domain and patents must specify the techniques and technology used, any engineer who follows the patent's instructions and buys the cheapest level of OS will be better able to unlock the more advanced features of the OS. If the engineer is in the US or a cross patent conutry, MS could sue the engineer. IF the engineer is not in one of those countries, he/she could resell the full OS. For MS, it may have been better to sell the extra features as add-ons instead. Therefore, a user who buys the cheaper version of the OS could not hack on the extra features (as easily).

Fri, May 29, 2009

Who blames the computer manufacturer if some crappy software you install doesn't work correctly? I've had it happen, but I've never even considered calling up HP or Dell or whoever and demanding they rectify the situation. This is seriously specious reasoning.

Fri, May 29, 2009 David2011

This functionality has existed to a degree since Win2000 without the patent. That was the first MS OS that was the same for all levels, with the portions you didn't pay for disabled. It sounds like it could be a huge benefit to the enterprise IT department where many of the computer support dollars go to fixing computers after users install unauthorized software. Maybe it would even limit the malware intrusions for a while (until the authors defeat it).

Fri, May 29, 2009 whydoesthisnotsurpriseme...... Somwhere closer to Linux...

And the Beat Goes On.........

Fri, May 29, 2009

Linux just keeps looking better and better...

Fri, May 29, 2009 Roger Ingraham

The purpose of an operating system is to provide an interface between MY programs and MY hardware and allow their successful operation. It should be none of their business what I choose to be able to do on MY computer.

Thu, May 28, 2009 Does it really matter? Atlanta

Would you people that keep threatening to move to Linux please do it! You sound so pathetic. "Microsoft, if you do one more thing that may prevent me from stealing your software I'm gonna.....". Do it and shut up. I guess we will find you on the Linux discussions saying if Linux does one more thing I'm switching to Microsoft. Grow a set.

Thu, May 28, 2009 Websfear

Only Microsoft Software on Microsoft OS! Yes, world domination is complete.

Wed, May 27, 2009 Bill the Borg

Resistance is futile, you *WILL* be assimilated...

Wed, May 27, 2009 Ken PA

I can see a very useful application of an OS with this capability as long as not all of the OS's Microsoft manufacturers has this ability. Think of a virtualized desktop with one purpose for training end users on a software product you manufacture. You could use this new OS instead of the full blown OS and create a VM that will only allow the training software to run on the virtualized desktop. No need to worry that a trainee will break the VM because they can't do anything but run the training software. Sounds like a dream come true to me. In a home use scenario I don't see this OS as being very useful at all. If the cost of this OS will be less then the cost of the full blown OS it makes the situation with training above even sweeter. Now we have to buy a full license for every VM we create in our training facility. Sounds great to me as long as the OS is used for purposes such as these.

Wed, May 27, 2009 Victor Schrader San Diego

Just because they can does not mean they will. The first thing they could do that would be a step forward would be to let enterprise users configure a specific build/deployment environment and hold key aspects constant. The absence of this ability is a problem that automatic updates not only don't solve, but make worse!

Wed, May 27, 2009 Mad MD

You guys don't get it. You can't see past your pirating fingers. This is useful for enterprises, not home computing, where you have stupid users (sound familiar) installing stupid stuff that is contrary to the company's desires. If I owned a company with 50+ people, there is no way in hell I would let them suck up my network's bandwidth by using Limewire, which has built-in malware anyway. Group policies and a boss walking the halls isn't always enough. I don't think it would become part of every OS, and the IT shops would have the ability to alter the programs allowed.

Wed, May 27, 2009 Dave Earth

Looks like the prelude to software as a service similar to how cell phone service works. Don't pay your bill, your OS stops working and your computer is a boat anchor.

Wed, May 27, 2009 Wes Marquart Wisconsin

My answer to this is "Not only No but H*ll NO!" I definately agree with John from Michigan. Linux seems to be the answer, its too bad that M$ has added this to their bag of tricks... they seem to be riding the wave of whats happening in this country... greater centralized control of all aspects of daily living both in the 'government' and now in the private sector. Soon they will want to legislate those of us out here who program without their 'blessings' out of existance.

Wed, May 27, 2009 CI North East

Do I hear Linux calling me :)

Wed, May 27, 2009 John Michigan

You can't be serious. Why would anyone want an OS that you cannot install 3rd party software on. Linux, Here I come! Not to worry. The EU will never stand for an OS that prohibits the installation of other browsers and 3rd party software. Wait until this gets into their court system. How can MS defend such a product feature.

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