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Confusion over backing up XP, Part 2

Sep 30, 20044 mins
Backup and RecoveryComputersMicrosoft

* Microsoft’s clarifications raise more questions

An interesting week, with me trying to figure out when and how we can legally back up our Windows XP systems. Even after I spent an hour on the phone with Microsoft, I’m still confused.

I had asked to speak with a Microsoft person who could provide the company’s recommended best practices for data backup and disaster recovery. Instead, I spoke with two Microsoft business managers who didn’t want to be quoted, so we’ll call them MS-1 and MS-2.

First, MS-1 said I was wrong to say that the end user license agreement (EULA) for the FPP (Fully Packaged Product, or retail version) of Windows XP doesn’t allow backups of the operating system files.

But then, after more questions, MS-2 admitted that the FPP does say you can’t make a backup. Then we three argued over a latter clause in the EULA that says you can “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.”

So you can’t make a backup of the XP files, but you can make a copy. Is a copy of a configured operating system a backup? Are there different rules for backing up to a network-attached storage box and a removable storage drive? See why I’m more confused?

The MSes couldn’t say. But part of the confusion comes from this: There are actually two EULAs with different rules. One is for instances of XP installed by the manufacturer, and one for XP you buy off the shelf and install on PCs you buy used or new from a small dealer.

MS-1 thinks this is clearly evident, but I believe most people read fine print only under extreme duress. To expect customers to modify their back-up procedures based on their EULA’s fine print is a crock.

Nevertheless, here’s the deal. When you buy XP in a retail box, you’re prohibited from making a back-up copy because you’re expected to use the media (CD-ROM). Never mind that reinstalling the operating system causes you to lose all the changes, upgrades and personalization tweaks you made to your software.

Worse, if your OEM vendor puts your operating system on a separate disk partition (which is fine with Microsoft), you lose everything if your hard disk dies. Then you really wish you had an FPP disk.

When a manufacturer puts XP on the computer for you, the software comes with an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer, or “name brand” ) license. This allows for one – and only one – back-up copy. According to MS-2, the Acronis, Iomega and IntraDyn executives quoted last week are just flat wrong about the license terms and backups for FPP software, but are only partially wrong about OEM software (you might make more than one copy).

Waving the white flag, I asked them to just tell me what Microsoft recommends users do for backup. MS-1 said, “We’re not a disaster recovery company,” and I should talk companies in that business who partner with Microsoft and know the rules.

Excuse me? Like Acronis, Iomega, and IntraDyn – Microsoft partners all – who are, according to MS-2, wrong? This kind of answer is why I wanted a Microsoft person, perhaps MS-3, who could tell us what the rules are for backup and disaster recovery.

Perhaps MS-3 is busy with the new Microsoft announcement: Data Protection Server, a disk-to-disk back-up and recovery product specifically for smaller businesses. The software service will start testing early next year and has support from many existing server and data storage vendors (see editorial link below).

I sure hope MS-1 doesn’t tell the Data Protection Server salespeople Microsoft isn’t a disaster recovery company, because that might affect sales.

Bottom line? Back up often, both locally and offsite. Shame on Microsoft…

And of course, if Microsoft hassles you about making backups of its operating system illegally, please let me know.