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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