Sunday, 28 February 2010

Trouble for Win7 trial users!

Microsoft Windows 7 Release Candidate users will lose control over their computers. Their PCs will start shutting down every two hours, even if they haven’t saved their work. And, on June 1, the screens will go black.

World’s largest software maker Microsoft’s business strategy for pushing hard to sell its new Windows 7 by exerting control over users’ PCs has opened a pandora’s box.

Release candidate were the trial versions that Microsoft released last year. Most proprietary software vendors do supply beta or trial versions for a limited period, which shut down after limited use. Microsoft Office software versions also lock a user’s files after a few trials, which means all data created during the trial period becomes unusable. But, in case of an operating system, which is the brain of a PC, the risks of losing control over a PC are much higher.

“The RC is a pre-final build that is distributed with a clearly stated intent and expiration date. Thus, testers already know at the time of downloading/installing that the RC is valid for a limited period. Even now, users have over 130 days to buy the final available for sale version of the product,” says Rajiv Popli, director–Windows Client, Consumer & Online Business, Microsoft India. “It’s a normal practice in software industry,” he adds.

Open source and non-profit IT bodies have started lobbying for open source software even harder for government systems. They fear that during times of a crisis, large corporations can control private networks. Legally, users cede the right to control over their PCs when they check into terms and conditions before installation. Many IT leaders cite this loss of control, as an unhealthy trade practice, especially for government systems. “The government is unfortunately burying the cyber threats as a non-real threat by procuring critical systems from foreign parties. Some US internet search engines are also reported to use US’ National Security Agency (NSA) algorithms. The issue of loss of control by users has to be taken suo moto by competition commission. It’s a highly coercive practice,” says Prabir Purkayastha, of Knowledge Commons.

Microsoft had however denied any reports of an NSA backdoor in Windows 7, last year. IT for Change, a non-profit body working towards open software in public systems, says that public systems should use public software. “Resting the control over public systems to private parties is against the principles of universal access,” says IT for Change director Gurumurthy Kafinathan.

Public systems aside, for users, geeks have designed ingenious ways to get past the practice. Dr Zaki Qureshey, chairman E2-Labs and an ethical hacker, says that reverse engineering of software is the key to it. “Many hackers get into reverse engineering after the Beta software are made available. All they do is create a small program that stops software from expiring, by lets says stopping the date to change.”

Numerous patches are available on the internet that promises to do away with the desktop watermarks and even stop the send feedback functionality. However, for users these may come with a risk. Security updates and patches would be unavailable making them vulnerable to malware attacks. “Further some of the software developing companies can even remotely lock the PCs which are using the pirated versions,” he adds.

A software called TimerNuke counts the remaining beta test period of Windows 7. If one missed the deadline for downloading the Beta software, when it was made available, one still has the option of downloading the entire cracked version from the internet through torrents. Torrents are small files with addressees of several internet connected PCs, which act as a resource base.