Giz Explains: The Windows 7 Beta Fine Print

Windows 7 is the largest OS beta test ever. If you followed our guide you're already snapping, peeking and poking around in it. But did you read the fine print before you clicked install?

The fine print we're talking about is Microsoft's Pre-Release Software License Terms for Windows 7 Beta, commonly referred to as a license agreement. It's a long scrolling list of text, the kind you usually skip during installation as you hammer the install button and get the party started. Trouble is, beta agreements are very different than final-release software agreements, and this text isn't available on Microsoft's website (but now it's available on Giz).

Assuming you didn't read it, we read it for you, and can now explain the contract between you and Microsoft that dictates how you use the software, what happens when it expires, what information they can scoop for you and sets the price for your firstborn in trade. Kidding about that last part, but pay attention:

You're Sending Data to Microsoft
Windows 7 is a beta product, which means it's in a testing phase—you're the tester. The whole point is for Microsoft to discover and squash any bugs that pop up, and maybe polish some of the user experience along the way if anything sticks out. Guess what? To do that, Microsoft needs to collect your data. Some of this data scooping is turned on by default, beaming information back to the mothership without needing to warn you that it's doing so. Common information includes your IP address, OS version, hardware ID—device manufacturer, name and version—that kind of thing.

The Windows 7 beta automatically sends error reports back to Microsoft. These "might unintentionally contain personal information. For example, a report that contains a snapshot of computer memory might include your name. Part of a document you were working on could be included as well." That sounds kinda dicey if you're Jack Bauer or the keepers of the Coca-Cola formula. But Microsoft says it doesn't use the info to figure out who you are, so no worries if you're just paranoid Microsoft is trying to hunt you down for some reason. Also flicked on by default is the Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP), which "sends anonymous information about your hardware and how you use this software to Microsoft."

Microsoft lays out what kind of information is transmitted by every major feature in detail here, including when the feature does it, how Microsoft uses it and if you've actually got a choice about sending the info. (Activation, no choice or control there, but Gadgets and network connectivity monitoring, yes.)

Sometimes Microsoft doesn't tell you when this on-by-default reporting telemetry can be turned off, but bear in mind that if you have to hack too far into the system to shut it off yourself, you may be violating the agreement by not using the software in the intended manner. As it's put so bluntly: "You may not work around any technical limitations in the software."

Generally speaking, Microsoft is clear that it won't share the info it gleans with the entire world, but they do reserve the right to "share it with others, such as hardware and software vendors" in order "to improve how their products run with this software." So like Dell and Quicken might be going through your crash reports and seeing what kind of computer you use. But you want their stuff to work with Windows, right?

It's More Like a Rental
This has been well-publicized, but in case you didn't know, the Windows 7 beta is a time bomb that will self-destruct on August 1, and might take your data down with it: "The software will stop running on August 1, 2009. You may not receive any other notice. You may not be able to access data used with the software when it stops running." (Another excellent reason to dual boot.) It's possible they could extend the length of the trial, but since all expectations are that the final Windows 7 is gonna ship by July, expect that Aug. 1 lock down to happen.

Did you think Windows 7 was a free ride and you own your very own copy now? Shnope. Microsoft is very clear here: "The software is licensed, not sold. This agreement only gives you some rights to use the software."

Part of the terms here—of Microsoft still owning Windows 7 and you owning approximately dick—are that you can't tell anyone benchmark results unless you get Microsoft to okay it first. You also can't reverse engineer Windows 7, "work around any technical limitations in the software" or use it to host your own server.

Oh, and if Windows 7 wipes out the indie film you've been working on for two years, blows up your mega-super-computer that cost you $20,000 to put together or otherwise completely screws up your life, Microsoft will only cover five bucks. Max.

It's for Testing Only
You can install and use as many copies as you like, but Microsoft says "You may not use the software in a live operating environment unless Microsoft permits you to do so under another agreement." So no using Windows 7, for like, reals. And you can only use it with one virtualization environment per device—so no doubling up Parallels and Fusion either, you rule-breaker you.

You Are Not Permitted to Circumvent Validation.
Well. Okay then. And yes, it's gonna keep checking "from time to time" that it's valid software. If Microsoft sends out an update to the validation software, odds are, they aren't going to tell you about it either—it can be downloaded and installed without telling you—meaning you can't turn it off.

Did We Mention This Is a Beta?
Hey guys? Windows 7 "may not work the way a final version of the software will. We may change it for the final, commercial version. We also may not release a commercial version." That would do lovely things to Microsoft's stock, eh?

Conclusion
If you want the really long version, here's the text of the full agreement. Here's the short version: Microsoft owns Windows 7, it's beaming back information to the mothership that you may or may not able be able to turn off, and you're totally on your own, sucker. Enjoy Windows 7!

Something you still wanna know? Send any questions about Windows, Ballmy, or the McRib to tips@gizmodo.com, with "Giz Explains" in the subject line.