Get OEM discounts when you upgrade your PC

By Scott Dunn

The May 24 issue continued our discussion of OEM software, explaining that any hobbyist can be a system builder and buy these products at a discount.

Additional documentation from Microsoft’s Web site makes it even more clear that you neither need to build a computer from scratch nor join the Microsoft Partner Program to qualify for the lower prices.

OEM Preinstallation Kit (OPK) not always required

The May 24 issue suggested that if you buy a single copy of the OEM version of Windows, you need to join the Microsoft Partner program to obtain a special kit to install it. But reader Sean Toner writes in with a correction:
  • "You are correct that a 1-pack Vista OEM package does not include the OPK.

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    "However, according to the OEM License, the requirement to use the OPK applies ‘when you distribute an individual software license for a desktop operating system.’ But presumably the requirement does not apply to an enthusiast who installs OEM Vista on a single machine for his own use.

    "Also, I understand that a 1-pack Vista OEM DVD will install itself quite easily without requiring the use of the OPK."
What you say makes perfect sense, Sean! Thanks for pointing out this language in the OEM license agreement. There seems to be little reason for the average hobbyist who is building his or her own system to join the Microsoft Partner Program or download the OPK.

Refurbishers are also ‘system builders’

Concerning the topic of who qualifies as a "system builder" and, therefore, for an OEM discount, Chris Miller writes:
  • "Good article on Microsoft’s OEM licenses. I wonder how much of a system I would need to build before I could qualify as a ‘system builder.’ I’ve never built a system from the ground up — motherboard, CPU, disk drive, etc. — because I don’t consider this a profitable use of my time, but I’ve changed most of these components at one point or another.

    "If I wanted to upgrade my Windows XP system to Vista, I’d certainly need a new hard drive and graphics card (probably memory, too). Leaving aside the question of ‘how would they ever know?’, would such a change be sufficient to make me a ‘system builder’? Or do we need a court case to decide?"
The OEM license agreement defines a "system builder" as "an assembler, refurbisher, or pre-installer of software on computer systems." The license does not define "refurbisher," but another Microsoft document (in Acrobat PDF format) from the Microsoft Partner Program site, the Channel Discussion Guide, states that "Refurbished PCs are those PCs where the components have been changed or upgraded" (page 2).

Certainly, that would include changing any of the components you listed. See the item below for more details.

Repairing a broken PC doesn’t invalidate OEM license

Reader Brett Sheaffer is concerned that he might have discovered another restriction on OEM software:
  • "I just called a Microsoft representative last week to ask the pros and cons (straight from the horse’s mouth!) of OEM vs. retail versions of Windows. I was considering signing up for their Partner Program (as a ‘system builder’) in order to save money by using the OEM versions.

    "One of the limitations I was made aware of (that so far has turned me off to OEM versions) is that once the OEM software is installed, a new license or disk must be purchased if any one of these components fail and need to be replaced: motherboard, hard drive, or processor.

    “For large system builders who turn a good profit and can buy OEM disks in quantity while providing warranty support to end users, that isn’t so much an issue. But for small ‘hobby’ builders like me who build only a few per year, there is ‘insurance’ in buying the retail version!"
Brett, I think you may have misunderstood what the representative told you (or the rep simply got it wrong). To begin with, I can find no mention of this limitation in the OEM license agreement.

Moreover, Microsoft has addressed this issue in the Channel Discussion Guide (the full title being “Discussion Guide: Clarifying Proper Windows Desktop OS Licensing”). Page 2 clearly states that "If the motherboard is being replaced because of a defect, a new OS license is not required." [Emphasis added.] The only time a new OS license is required is when hardware refurbishing is done for reasons other than a defect (for example, adding memory or getting a faster motherboard).

ZoneAlarm is still not Vista ready

Regarding the security products we listed in the May 24 issue, a number of readers echoed the concern expressed by reader Alan Horton:
  • "I am surprised that you still have the ZoneAlarm Security Suite in your Security Baseline, as it does not yet support Vista."
It is an unfortunate fact that many ZoneAlarm products, including the ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite, are not yet available in a Vista-compatible version. However, the company promises free Vista updates as soon they do become available. The ZoneAlarm Web site states, "ZoneAlarm products are eligible for a free Vista upgrade when it is released as part of a 1-year update program." But that’s a small consolation for those who’ve been waiting for an update for several months.

For those who want a Vista-capable security solution now, the runner-up we mentioned in the article, Norton Internet Security 2007, supports Windows Vista as of February 2007, according to the product FAQ.

In the paid version of today’s newsletter, you’ll find more solutions to subscription subterfuge, the topic of our May 17 story on companies that automatically sign you up for credit-card renewals. You’ll also find a new way to save big on Microsoft software via the Microsoft Partner Program.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2007-06-07: