Ask Dan: The wonderful world of Windows

Publication date: 7 August 2008
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


Yo ho, yo ho, a System Builder's life for me

Aus PC Market sell "System Builder" versions of Windows, like this version of XP.

How is it possible to sell the OEM version, when the license agreement states that it has to come with an assembled PC?

I have an illegal copy of XP Pro and am wanting to upgrade. With that in mind, I do not want to get to a point where this is deemed "not fully legal" or something like that. I am not saying that the AusPC software would in any way be illegal, but I just want to make sure that Microsoft have no issue with this type of sale.

I am sure it will be OK, as a heap of places are selling the system-builder version. I bought all the hardware for my PC from AusPC by the way, some time ago now.


Note: I Am Not A Lawyer (I seem to be saying that a lot, lately...), and this isn't legal advice. If you end up chained to a dungeon wall for software piracy, don't direct your one phone call to me.

Microsoft very clearly prohibits people from selling OEM Windows licenses by themselves, and the System Builder license is a kind of OEM license. But the "System Builders" that this license is meant to apply to - small computer stores - don't necessarily buy their System Builder Windows packages direct from Microsoft. It would seem - and again, I'm not a lawyer and may be completely wrong here - that if you buy a System Builder package from someone authorised to sell them, then all you have to do is comply with the System Builder license yourself and you'll be fine. Heck, even if you buy the software from someone who isn't meant to be selling it, you're probably still fine as long as the software's genuine and not stolen.

Microsoft clearly meant only real professional system builders to be buying System Builder licenses. But just as clearly, as you say, Microsoft do not seem very bothered about "system builders" who only build one system every few years, or the people who sell them those versions of Windows. If you ask me, I reckon Microsoft are happy to just be selling some kind of Windows license to these people, rather than having them rip the OS off as usual.

Apart from the acceptability of buying the software in the first place, the System Builder license doesn't seem to actually require you to sell the system you've just built. And it also doesn't require people to buy any hardware (like the archetypal hard drive or, for particularly cheeky resellers, $5 network card or ten-cent capacitor) along with their System-Builder-licensed Windows.

Microsoft obviously intend the System Builder license to apply to the people who build computers and sell them on, whereupon a standard OEM end-user license will apply to the people who buy the computer from the Builder. But there's no obvious reason why the Builder and the end user can't be the same. Then, the license section where they "grant you a nonexclusive right to distribute an individual software license only with a fully assembled computer" applies to you, the person who buys the System Builder version of XP from AusPC or whoever, not to AusPC themselves.

You buy the System Builder copy of Windows, you build a computer and install it, and now you can hand that computer and its software license over to someone else - or, apparently, keep it yourself.

I think the System Builder install discs are also pretty vanilla Vista and XP discs, not some cut-down OEM weirdness. Actually, one of the "problems" with the System Builder arrangement is that the Builder, like the big "Direct OEM" companies like Dell, is allowed to alter their special installation, so you see their company logo in System Properties, the Windows config is different from what it'd normally be, and so on. But if the user reinstalls from the CD later, all that stuff will go away, since the install disc is an ordinary XP disc and not something special.

This is of course not really very much of a problem - it's a lot less of a problem than the old Direct OEM trick of not giving you a bloody Windows disc at all (unless you call and complain...), but just a restore partition that eats some of your hard disk space, and which is no use to you at all when the reason you need to reinstall is because your hard drive just failed.

If you get a System Builder version of Windows and install it on a computer you built, it looks like a kosher enough use of the product to me. What I think you'll end up owning is a computer with a normal OEM-licensed copy of Windows on it.

[I sent this reply to John a while ago now, and Microsoft seem to have now changed the license agreement. The version that was current when I replied to John is still available in PDF format here. The current version can be downloaded from Microsoft's site here. I tried to figure out how the license's meaning had changed, if at all, but I kept nodding off.]


Update Of Disaster

I've got an Asus P5N-E SLI with dual GeForce 8600 GT cards, and 2Gb RAM. I've been trying to get Vista to work on it, but I keep having a problem with the ACPI\ATK0110 update in Vista. I can get Vista to install properly, but as soon as I install this one update, Vista won't even start. All I get is the bar at the bottom of the screen for about 30 seconds, then a quick flash of BSOD and a reboot.

I've been told to try the "AsusAI" program from the original install CD that I got with the mobo, but I no longer have the original install disk, I can't find a copy anywhere that I'm confident is for my board, and I've read in various forums that it doesn't help anyway.

Is this a problem with the Asus boards as a whole, or am I just missing something? Other people have tried to get help from Asus about Vista not working when the update is installed, and it must be a robot that they use 'cos it just says to install the update. So either they don't read the e-mails or they don't care. Should I be looking at a new motherboard, or is there a way to get this working properly?


Can you start in Safe Mode and then use System Restore to roll back the system status to before you applied the update? If so, you'll then have a computer working as it did before the deadly update arrived (without having to reinstall the operating system...). Then you can just make sure you never install that update and be OK.

This is of course unacceptable if it leaves you with no driver for some important part of the system. But I think the "ACPI\ATK0110" is just some hardware monitoring doodad that hooks into that AsusAI or AiBooster, or whatever it's called. I don't think it's actually necessary for operation of the computer.

Apparently, you can also go into Safe Mode and then just disable the ATK0110 device in Device Manager.


Having it both ways

I was just wondering if there are any disadvantages to dual-booting windows Vista 64-bit and XP 32-bit on a new system?

I am keen to use Vista 64-bit for workstation stuff, like Adobe CS2, but am aware that 64-bit is not where it should be with compatibility yet. The main reason I want the 64-bit version is that I will have 4Gb of RAM, with the potential to upgrade in the future.

With this in mind, I thought keeping 32-bit XP as a boot option would be good for gaming and other programs that will not run on Vista-64, or on Vista at all. Thanks for any advice you can give.


This ought to work fine.

I put the "ought" in there because it's possible for a multiboot Windows system to go weird, if for instance the first OS is in an old and busted state when you add the second one.

I'm not aware of any reason why Vista-64 and XP-32 shouldn't be as easy to multiboot as any other XP/Vista combination, though.

Note that if you install a 32-bit version of Windows on a computer with more than 4Gb of RAM, you'll only be able to see the first 4Gb of memory. Actually, not even that much, as I explain in "What's with the 3Gb memory barrier?".

Another thing I mention in that article, but will repeat here because people keep asking about it, is that although you can turn on Physical Address Extension mode in umpteen 32-bit Windows versions, in every version that normal people want to use, that mode will not actually let you see any more memory.

Australian shoppers - I mean, "System Builders" - who'd like buy one of those cut-price versions of Windows can find a bunch of 'em in the "Software" section of Aus PC Market.
Click here to order!