Two brief reminiscences on the Windows XP “Comments?” button


In beta versions of Windows XP, there was special code in the window manager to give every window a link in the upper right corner called "Comments?" which if clicked on displayed a dialog that allowed you to submit feedback to Microsoft about that window.

Since this was a beta release, there was no anonymity when you submitted feedback. (You signed away your anonymity when you agreed to the special beta license agreement and typed in your beta ID number.) Yet we got more than one feedback submission that begin, "Hi, I pirated this copy of Windows XP, and here's some feedback."

In its initial incarnation, the word in the title bar was "Lame", but people with a weaker sense of humor changed it to the less confrontational "Comments?". The name "Lame" came from a recurring sketch on local comedy show Almost Live! called "The Lame List, or What's Weak This Week (brought to you with the help of Seattle's Heavy Metal community)".

Comments (35)
  1. Anonymous says:

    I really wish that MS would solve the pirating problem once and for all, it would instantly decimate Microsoft’s market share.

    What I don’t get is: you try to crack down on pirated windows copies, and you do this by making the pirated version more attractive than the legal version.

    Am I the only one that doesn’t see the logic in this ?

  2. Anonymous says:

    The Visual Studio guys must watch that show too, I remember seeing an error dialog in a beta build of VS 2002 with a button labeled "LAME!".

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ah, so THAT explains why the regkey to enable/disable this in XP betas is labeled "LameButtonEnable"…

  4. Anonymous says:

    I remember the VS 2002 "LAME!" too.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I remember clicking Lame? on Lame? dialog several times (30-50) caused BSOD in Windows XP beta ;-)

    Microsoft fixed this – but disallowing to click more that twice on Lame? link.

    Thus – you can send Lame report about some features, lame reports about how lame it’s to send thouse reports – but not how lame it’s to report that reporting is lame ;-))

  6. Anonymous says:

    I miss Almost Live!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Aaargh!:

    That’s always the trouble with any sort of copy-protection, DRM, product activation, or whatever. The people who pirate it get a version free of the annoyances, and it’s the paying customer who has to put up with the stupid activation/need the CD in the drive/whatever. The solution? Face the fact that no matter how hard you try, some people are going to pirate it, and quit annoying the honest people with pointless nonsense…

    (Take Half Life 2 — I bought a copy, but rather than suffer the pain in the behind that is "Steam" I use a "warezed" vaersion for actual playing — I’ve never installed my genuine copy!)

  8. Anonymous says:

    Wayne,

    If you’re still in the Seattle area the re-run Almost live on channel 5 late Saturday nights. I think around 12:30AM, which would make it Sunday morning(duh). At least they were a couple of months ago.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I don’t mind activation but what does irritate me is the annoying – "You have changed your hardware configuration too many times… " – It isn’t even set at a reasonable level.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Muck, did you read the article?

    If someone buys an OEM version they are not affected.

    This only affects computers (not OSes) purchased from large manufacturers like Dell who use SLP.

    When you buy a computer with an OEM version of Windows XP installed, it very clearly states that the license for that software is NOT transferrable to any other computer.

    But I don’t even think that’s what they’re worried about. They’re worried about people selling their product keys, stealing them from public computers, and so on.

    It’s really not a big deal.

  11. Anonymous says:

    "She’s the world girlfriend in the world, she’s a psycho bitch from hell! Yeah, that’s the girl! She’s the worst girlfriend in the world!"

    I remember Almost Live! About half the cast were actually funny, and about a third of the skits were worth watching but, hey, it was local right?

  12. Anonymous says:

    <i>If you’re still in the Seattle area the re-run Almost live on channel 5 late Saturday nights.</i>

    It’s on at 1 a.m. Sunday mornings on KING 5, following SNL.

  13. Anonymous says:

    @Brandon Paddock:

    Depends, where I live it IS a big deal. In Germany it is perfectly legal to buy and use an OEM version purchased from manufacturers who use SLP. It doesn’t matter if the EULA prohibits or not, it’s legal (as according to courts terms that bound software to unique hardware is void). So banning people who bought them legally is punishing them in a very bad way. BTW: I am one of these users…

  14. Anonymous says:

    Regarding piracy, today Microsoft has announced to discontinue its activation service for OEM versions of Windows XP:

    http://www.betanews.com/article/Microsoft_Closes_Activation_Loophole/1109293194

    The article basically reiterates what no doubt has been stated in a press release by Microsoft; no one will be affected, people don’t reinstall their Windows anyway, yada yada.

    Anyway, it turns out that consumers who bought an OEM version of Windows XP (yes, *bought*) have not really got anything at all in exchange for their money.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I never bothered with the Lame or Comments button when using my pirated (as if you can pirate un-retail beta software anyhow) copy of XP because I never got anything except form letters back on my comments about earlier versions of Windows.

  16. Anonymous says:

    David Larsen

    "as if you can pirate un-retail beta software anyhow"

    If a liscense isn’t granted to you, then you do not have the right to use the software. Doesn’t matter if the liscense needs to be purchased or given away to only certain people (as in the Windows beta case). So even if no one has paid for it, it doesn’t mean that you’re use of it isn’t piracy.

    Conversely, just because you paid for it doesn’t mean it isn’t being pirated (consider China’s software piracy market, where they sell burnt copies of software). In this case, though, I think the one in the wrong is the seller.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I’d love to see the LAME! button in release versions. It would nicely channel the user’s anger and allow a Watson-like statistics feedback.

    I mean, if a gazillion folks think a particular message box is lame, then the PM should think again, shouldn’t she?

  18. Anonymous says:

    In Australia, EULA’s are bogus as the Trade Practices Act says that the onus is on the licensor to prove that they are entering an agreement to license, not sale.

    As there is such an unequal relationship between consumers and an such a high expectation by consumers that they "own" the goods when they leave the High St store, that it’s basically impossible to enforce EULA’s here. The picture is further weakened by the fact that the ACCC uses the example of a store where most goods are sold (like fridges, washing machines, etc), and only a small fraction are licensed (such as DVDs or software) without an adequate display or advice prior to "purchase" that the good is actually sold under license.

    The BSAA always concentrates on piracy by morons who rip off publishers and people like Microsoft rather than trying to test the EULA – as they know it will fail in court and do not want the caselaw on the record.

    But until the day an EULA is tested here (extraordinarily unlikely), it’s business as usual – publishers pretending that they can remove rights from consumers until proven otherwise.

    Andrew

  19. Anonymous says:

    Regarding OEM licences, I’ve never been able to work out exactly what they’re tied to. Microsoft’s new licensing page says that an OEM licence lives and dies with the PC with which it was supplied, but what actually constitutes the PC? Hard drives, memory and CPUs can all die. Parts can be swapped out etc. Just when does a PC become a new entity? Perhaps it’s the case, after all, my HP machine has the licence sticker attached to it, so I suppose I can just keep swapping components in and out of the case to my hearts content. One online retailer here in the UK will supply OEM versions of windows with any non-peripheral piece of hardware, including a keyboard. So does that mean that any computer I plug that keyboard into is licenced? Better still, buy a cheap 10/100 NIC and plug it into a spare PCI slot. They’re cheap as chips and I guess you could even disable it in device manager and use an onboard GigabitE device instead.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Tom,

    If I’m not mistaken, OEMs hardcode a BIOS ID into the machine. The process is called BIOS locking. Hence, that OS is somehow locked to the BIOS it is on.

    Although, I’m unaware of the specifics of the process, and would be glad to get more info on this :)

  21. Anonymous says:

    Hated it! Why does MS always assume that the user will be running mostly (only?) MS products?

    The same assumption can be noticed in the ‘crash’ dialogs; why do I need to send MS a bug report on some random product from vendor X???

  22. Anonymous says:

    "The same assumption can be noticed in the ‘crash’ dialogs; why do I need to send MS a bug report on some random product from vendor X?"

    I’m sure that’s been covered on here before, but it is (in some instances) useful — larger software vendors can get access to the error reports to see if/why their products fail, and MS make use of the reports to spot common problems. If you don’t want to participate you can turn the error reporting off, but I figure that even if it makes no difference it’s not much effort to click a button and send the report.

    Getting somewhat OT now:

    "Regarding OEM licences, I’ve never been able to work out exactly what they’re tied to. Microsoft’s new licensing page says that an OEM licence lives and dies with the PC with which it was supplied, but what actually constitutes the PC?"

    I’m curious about this — I recently bought a PC and a copy of OEM XP, but I bought the PC as a bunch of components; which component in particular does it "belong" to? How many bits do I need to replace before MS consider it a "new" PC? It’s all a bit philosopher’s axe — the old HP machine I had that came with XP pre-installed only has the case and floppy drive in common with the original machine, but I still use the original XP that shipped with it. Is this wrong? Am I about to go to jail? (And I guess HP are one of the magic 20 vendors that online activation has been stopped for, so next time I reinstall XP on it, I’ll have to speak to MS — will they grant me the override key?)

  23. Anonymous says:

    Are there any screenshots publicly available of the "Lame" or "comments" button? I’m interested to see what it looked like.

  24. Anonymous says:

    mschaef, a link to a screenshot is provided in the original post!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Mat Hall,

    It’s a bit more than just a philosophers exe, it requires a legal definition if MS has any hope of actually enforcing this. If they deny an online activation because too many items have changed, but I claim that the case has never changed so it’s the same PC, where do we stand? Microsoft’s new volumn licensing rules only apply to upgrades, not to new PC’s, so it goes like this.

    1) Buy new PC with OEM licence

    2) Buy volume licensing agreement

    3) MS release new OS which renders old PC too sluggish

    4) Buy new PC with new OEM licence.

    notice that we’ve wasted the cost of the volume licensing agreement because you still have to get a windows licence for each new PC.

    HOWEVER, if you can upgrade your corporate PC and retain just the case (for example), then you’ve saved the cost of the new OEM licence

  26. Anonymous says:

    Thomas:

    <I>Germany it is perfectly legal to buy and use an OEM version purchased from manufacturers who use SLP.</I>

    It may be legal to buy, but I’d question whether it’s legal to sell them. But, even if it is, your argument is with the vendor who sold you a product unfit for your environment, not the manufacturer who clearly stated that it was unfit for your purpose.

  27. Anonymous says:

    "mschaef, a link to a screenshot is provided in the original post! "

    Doh! I did read the post, just didn’t click on all the sub links.

  28. Anonymous says:

    "…what actually constitutes the PC? Hard drives, memory and CPUs can all die. Parts can be swapped out etc. Just when does a PC become a new entity?"

    I’d ask the same question about people (constant growth of new cells as old die off? eyeglasses? heart transplants?), but Microsoft isn’t in that business.

    <paranoid>Yet.</paranoid>

  29. Anonymous says:

    But why was it removed, it can serve as a good tool to gather feedback from consumers.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I think pretty much all of this discussion and confusion dealing with the how and the why of the OEM licensing (and most other anti-piracy efforts) get right back to the original poster’s point: it has simply become much less of a hassle and much easier to go download a pirated copy of XP and use it instead of jumping through the hoops of doing things legally. It’s not even about the cost anymore–it’s the convenience of it.

    You’d think that someone would learn from what the music publishing industry is going through right now; if you aren’t making it easier for your customers to get what they want than the alternative, then you aren’t providing any value to them and they aren’t going to pay you for it. Microsoft pays a lot of lip service to delivering value to the customer–it’s been a cornerstone of every argument I’ve heard them make justifying their market share–but every effort they make in improving their software right now is being dogged by the increasing difficulty of coping with their DRM measures.

  31. Anonymous says:

    A kid: You are right, it can serve as a good tool to gather feedback from consumers. Now what do you do with that feedback? How is 50 million free-text responses the least bit actionable? With a beta, at least you have (in theory) a limited and manageable audience.

    Yes, you could do some fancy magic with text mining software, but it’s just not easy.

    If you want to gather feedback from a broad group of users, free-text responses are not the best way.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Re the German EULA situation… I happen to have a German law degree, so let me drop some very short notes (as short as possible for a jurist ;-) ).

    First, the OEM bundling thing is entirely a question about whether a "copyrighted" (the German system is a bit different from US copyright) material is entered into the public market or not. If yes, the "copyright" holder cannot restrict its distribution. That is what Thomas referred to.

    Second, and this is much more important: if I buy a Windows box in a store, I will do a simple purchase on the property of the CDs (or DVDs or whatever). Owning them gives me the right to use the software on them without the need of a "license". When I install such a program now, it tells me "you need to make a contract with a third party to use this program" and only continues if I click "yes". However, I already HAVE the right to use the program, so clicking on "yes" can, from the standpoint of the third party, not be considered entering into a contract. The third party can not expect the person to want to make a contract to be granted a right the person already has.

    So, simple as that: the EULA never gets contracted. It’s simply not of interest for the user, so clicking yes doesn’t mean he agrees on the EULA, so the EULA never becomes binding.

    (Lasty, the German law renders all contractual obligations void that forbid making backup copies and decompilingy clauses in them violatign that woudl be voi/monitoring programs if that is necessary to sensibly use them. So even IF the EULA was working, and. A lot of other clauses as well, especially about limitation ofliability.)

  33. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm, that last paragraph came out mangled… it should read something like this:

    (Lasty, the German law renders all contractual obligations void that forbid making backup copies and decompiling/monitoring programs if that is necessary to sensibly use them. So even IF the EULA was working, any clauses in them violating that would be void. A lot of other clauses as well, especially about limitation ofliability.)

  34. Anonymous says:

    Another classic sketch from Almost Live!

  35. Anonymous says:

    It might take you back to Almost Live and the Lame List, and if so then I was able to inspire the right…

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