Turns out I\u2019ve been telling you - nagging you, even - to break the law. By law I mean the software licensing contract you agreed to by \u201cbuying\u201d Microsoft\u2019s Windows XP operating system. I apologize.Stunned reader John W says Microsoft's technical support said copying the operating system to an external hard disk violates Microsoft's End User License Agreement (EULA). In this case, we\u2019re talking about doing a full backup or disk image of your PC\u2019s operating system, applications and data - not just backing up data directories.On the off chance John W misinterpreted Microsoft\u2019s policy, I contacted the company\u2019s PR machine, which told me this:"In regards to \u2026 how USB\/FireWire external drives and back-up software works with the Windows XP EULA: According to Microsoft's FPP EULA [full packaged product end user license agreement] you cannot make a back-up copy of the software, i.e. a second copy of the software, installed on a second device. If the end-user is doing that with any of the hardware or software technologies you listed earlier\u2026then they are violating the EULA."In the month I\u2019ve been chasing this story, no Microsoft exec has talked to me.\u00a0 However, its PR people said I could attribute any quotes I pull from e-mails to Sunny Jensen Charlebois, product manager, Worldwide Licensing and Pricing at Microsoft.Of course I\u2019m still trying to track down this Sunny person - no luck yet, either.\u00a0Meanwhile, I contacted back-up software company execs about the matter. Stephen Lawton, director of marketing for Acronis (http:\/\/www.acronis.com), says, \u201cmaybe that particular tech support person got it wrong." Possible, but more likely Microsoft changed the EULA for retail packages of Windows XP.Acronis doesn't do a file copy, but focuses on the bits and sectors of the hard disk. That means the system doesn\u2019t create a useable copy of the\u00a0operating system\u00a0that you can save on a CD-ROM and copy to another computer. Acronis works with Microsoft and has never heard a word about licensing infringements from Microsoft directly.Todd Schuelke, reviews manager for Iomega (http:\/\/www.iomega.com), says, "The backup that a customer would make with the Iomega REV drive and the supplied Norton Ghost software \u2026helps [them] recover from a disaster. It\u2019s not meant to be a\u00a0 backup of the Microsoft XP install CD, and it doesn't [let you] run the install from the REV disk."\u00a0The EULA doesn\u2019t mention anything about copying the Install CD.Brent Bowlby, CTO of Intradyn (http:\/\/www.intradyn.com), reads the EULA as saying you can have a single backup - but that\u2019s not what it says.\u00a0\u00a0Bowlby argues, if Microsoft is really against backups, \u201cwhy does it include the back-up applet in XP that allows you to create as many backups as you want?\u201d\u00a0Because it gives Microsoft negotiating leverage. As your company grows, the Microsoft sales people can claim you're violating your EULA, that you need to upgrade to the volume licensing agreement to make these backups legitimately. Microsoft answers every question about licensing problems with single copies with the same answer: Upgrade to a volume licensing agreement.Sorry, but that's not a good answer for most small companies. Until I have more info, you have three choices: create a system backup, follow the license agreement, or peruse the (very friendly) licensing agreements of some Linux vendors.Postscript:After this column was finished, Microsoft\u2019s Sunny Jensen Charlebois contacted me and told me what the company said earlier was wrong. Here\u2019s her clarification:In Section 1.5 of the Windows XP EULA it states: 1.5 Storage\/Network Use. You may also store or install a copy of the software on a storage device, such as a network server, used only to install or run the software on your other workstation computer. The logic here for the customer is that "I'm only storing a copy of the operating system on the back-up device, and only for the purpose of reinstalling the operating system in case of failure.\u201dUnfortunately, what Microsoft claims is "the logic here" is not what the EULA actually says. The EULA never mentions backups and only grants specified rights and keeps all others.And Charlebois left out Microsoft\u2019s requirement for an additional license for that storage device. Next time, we hope to have some clearer answers.