What is OEM software?

OEM (original equipment manufacturer) software is the software that is already installed on your computer at the time of purchase. The software, Microsoft or Adobe for instance, is sold to computer manufacturers such as HP, Dell or IBM. These computer manufacturers install the software on their computers before they are shipped to retailers. In other words, when you go to Best Buys or wherever to purchase a computer, the software already loaded on it is OEM.

OEM software is sold in bulk to computer manufacturers. The bulk discounted price is why retailers of these products can offer them at such low prices. The bulk software that is shipped with the computer system will be an old version of the software, a limited-function version or the full package with total functionality.

No matter the version, the pre-installed software on your new computer will be compatible only to the hardware it is installed on. It is against the law to copy or resell software; firstly, it violates the license agreement between the manufacturer and publisher. There is no guarantee it will work on another system, and it is illegal to install it on a machine it was not meant for. Copied versions are classified as pirated copies.

In addition to the computer manufacturers, the software can legally be sold to individuals and small companies who build computer systems. Some of these individuals are licensed partners of software companies and can both sell and support the software. OEM is sometimes available at retail computer shops and always available online. The rule is that it can only be purchased with hardware.

Sometimes the seller (reseller in this case) only requires the purchase of a mouse or keyboard, etc. They don’t necessarily require the purchase of a core piece of hardware, and they still believe that they are honoring their license agreement with the software publisher. This practice is technically legal.

OEM software does not come in a box, or with a manual, warranty, license and sometimes no support. The exception is that the retailer where you buy the computer may give you a cut-down version of a manual. The manufacturer of your computer holds the license with the software company. That means, for instance, IBM holds the license for the Microsoft software it has installed on its computers. The seller of the computer with the installed software is responsible for the support of the product.

Even without a manual or with a cut-down version you may get from the retailer, instructions and help are available on the product’s website. The  software will also have a help system built into it. You may already know how to use the software and don’t need a manual. But, you should be aware that the software cannot be upgraded. You will have to start over and buy the retail version of the software you want.

Savvy PC component makers and software publishers develop two versions of their products. One will be retail, the other will be OEM. This increases their revenue. But unfortunately, either version is an added opportunity for pirating. Pirated copies of software violate the US Copyright Act. Most online discount software is legitimate, but it is prudent to verify it.

If the software you buy is a cut-down version, it’s not necessarily a pirated copy. You can verify the legality by calling the publisher and supplying the serial number of the product. If the software is not valid, they will refer you to the seller where you purchased the computer or the stand-alone software package. Another way to verify that it’s legal is to check the hologram on the disk. If it has the statement ‘for distribution with new PC’, it is a legal OEM version.

A rampant problem with OEM products is their import from overseas. It’s nearly impossible to catch the illegal infractions of the software coming from Europe and Asia. Sadly, the  software is often bogus. Computer experts and system buyers warn that if the price sounds too good to be true it probably is. Many experts go further and warn against purchasing a ‘computer in a box’ system. The ‘name brand’ PC may have limited, trial or bogus software installed.

While OEM software is usually pre-installed on computer hardware and electronic devices, sometimes the retailer will just give you the OEM disk along with your purchase. This may be a benefit for you, but presents another easy opportunity for pirating. All of this copying and pirating has come about because OEM has become known as ‘cheap’ and everyone is looking for a deal.

To help prevent OEM pirating, software publishers are beginning to incorporate a Product Activation requirement to their products. This ensures that users have a legitimate license to use the software they installed. Products that utilize Product Activation have a trial period built in, usually about 30-45 days. If the software is not activated by the timeframe given it will not function.

The Product Activation involves connecting to an internet site or calling a toll-free number. You must supply them with the serial number so the software can be authenticated and matched to your system. The software company uses a unique randomly generated hardware ID program to match your system. If your system hardware changes significantly a software reinstallation is required as well as re-activation. This step is separate from registering your software product.