Outcry Spurs Changes in Activation Procedure

Microsoft rethinks Windows Activation Procedure feature in Windows XP.

When Andrew Ma, product manager for Microsoft’s .NET server solutions group, asked MCP TechMentor conference attendees how they liked Windows product activation, he received a round of boos and hisses.

That pretty much summed up the IT industry’s response to Microsoft’s attempt to reduce piracy by tying Windows XP to a system’s hardware. The operating system had to be activated before being used, and if four or more changes were made to the computer’s hardware, then reactivation—including a call to Microsoft—would have to be made.

That negative feedback has caused Microsoft to soften—but not eliminate—the activation process.

Ma said the changes were “in response to comments” made by testers in the beta phase of XP’s development. Product activation married to hardware “didn’t really work, and we weren’t locked in [to that type of activation] one way or another,” Ma said.

The new system ties XP to the manufacturer’s BIOS instead of hardware, meaning every single piece of hardware, including even the motherboard, could be swapped without needing reactivation, as long as the same BIOS was used. Most copies of XP bought by consumers will be pre-activated by the OEM, Microsoft believes, so even the initial activation will be unnecessary.

The other change involves customers who buy XP off the shelves or from another retail channel. Previously, if four hardware changes were made, such as adding more RAM, changing the video card, adding another hard drive and swapping out the network card, the OS would no longer recognize the system, necessitating reactivation. The new threshold is six components instead of four. Also, changing one component a number of times, like upping RAM from 64MB to 128MB then to 256MB, will only count as one change. Adding a component, like a DVD player, doesn’t count as a change; only changing existing physical devices does.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Nov 28, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

I earn my living supporting MS products and want to be GOOD at my job. I'm advising ALL who will listen (and that's quite a few) to stay away from XP because of the activation. I refuse to participate in software piracy but once something is purchased, I want to use it without restrictions. Even the beta XP software I purchased from MS has gone untested because they had the activation requirements in place. W2K is now the OS of choice. What is beyond W2K? Linux? Maybe Novell - I'm certified in that as well and they're much more reasonable!

Tue, Nov 20, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

Office XP and Windows XP, and Windows 2000 Terminal Services non-admin mode require this pathetic method of product activiation. I plan to dig up my past Unix experience, and port it to Linux. With the over-priced cost of Office XP, and Windows XP... I am about to start recommending friends & small buisnesses get a box with Linux, Star Office, and VMWARE for those days they need to run some Windows programs under Linux. The violation of the consumers right to use a licensed product, and not have to pay for a new license for the same code.... just to move it to a new machine, or use imaging software is a crime that should be investigated by the state & federal powers. Star Office 6 (beta) is free and looking GREAT.... and though once I said I'd never use Novel.....I think it's time to diversify my technical background by adding to my moderate Novel and pathetic Linux skills.... oh, yeah...and what is that other OS that Citrix runs on so well???? I think I need to learn that also. --another fed up MCSE+I

Mon, Nov 19, 2001 Anon Anon

What I would like to know is why the "Gold" edition is not offered to the main sales force, the MCP's, and MCSE's. They are the main reason for new MS purchases at our companies. It is only offered to MS partnrered companies, and not the individuals who support and sell the MS products.

Sun, Nov 18, 2001 Anonymous Silicon Valley

Hmmm since I run XP in VMWare on a linux box, I wonder how Microsoft is going to prevent me from moving the system image? Last I checked, VMWare creates a virtual bios that's identical on every system. So as I wean my users off Windows.......(See Bill & Steve! What you have wrought! Gonna be a linux shop pfft!)

Sat, Nov 17, 2001 Gary Bel Air, Maryland

So lets see if I get this correct....
I buy a system with XP on it and the XP is tied to the system BIOS allowing me to make any changes I want so long as BIOS does not change, reactivation is not necessasary, BUT!!!!!!

If I buy WinXP from a retailer and install it on my system that I built, I am only allowed a certain number of changes?????

Seems like Microsoft is out to screw a lot of people on this deal.

Why not allow those who purchase WinXP as a boxed product " Marry " our BIOS to the XP Install ?????

Windows 2000 is looking better and better as time goes on. At least all my software will run on Windows 2000. I tried to instal it on XP and got all kinds of warning messages, calls to the software publisher were met with " BUY our latest version ".

Way to go Microsoft.

Sat, Nov 17, 2001 Anonymous London

I recommend Microsoft to put its efforts in building OS and systems instead of fighting with hackers, which is an endless effort.

Microsoft has the largest market in software industry and instead of trying to absorb new customers (which I think none of these type of users are going to pay for software), it should try to keep existing customers.

Fri, Nov 16, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

Activation issues almost kept me from
buying a new home system and I am concerned about messing things up in the future or with some hidden time stamp or counter. I also work for a large company that has told us to look at other systems and software in light of Microsoft's new approach to Enterprise Service Agreements. I expect Macs and Linux (and where is IBM now in this game? will they resurrect Warp?) to give Microsoft some real competition in the next 5 years. Being hard nosed is ultimately self-defeating. Return to your roots, Microsoft! Give the OS away and sell other products and services to make your billions. I remain intentionally annonymous, since I work for a very large company that sends Bill a lot of cash every year.

Fri, Nov 16, 2001 Sniffy Mooville

I agree with Bill above. I build computers on the side and use this activity to upgrade my own computer. I also do a lot of evaluations, test and change things just to see what happens. The idea that you would upgrade your motherboard and use the same BIOS is almost absurd. I would never use any product that negates itself after I change some hardware in my computer. I wonder if Billy even thinks about how fast Linux popularity is growing. I wonder if he and the boys at MS have even seen a Mac running OS X ?

Fri, Nov 16, 2001 Bill Hall Santa Clara, CA

I use my MSDN subscription to run my one person business and as a personal training tool. This means I'm constantly taking down a system and putting up another one, learning and educating myself on using Microsoft systems and technology. The activation process is a total and complete impediment to my operations and discourages me from these kinds of tasks. I hate it. Makes you want to go over to Linux and Apache. I doubt that Microsoft really understands the wide variety of needs of some of its most loyal customers and supporters.

Fri, Nov 16, 2001 Dan New York

Microsoft's new licensing model is just another attempt at becoming big brother. How does this model affects disaster recovery, backups, or drive imaging? It sounds like a lot of extra work and headaches for administrators. What happpens when the system stops working suddenly? Do I have to first spend $250 with tech support to find out that it is an activation problem? I have experienced this type of licensing with Computer Associates products and let me just say that it is a nightmare. When evaluating Xp you have to ask yourself "What's in it for me?" Other than bells and whistles, nothing. Sorry Microsoft I'll pass on Xp, passport, reader, and anything else that uses a model simillar to Xp.

Fri, Nov 16, 2001 Former DEC user Anonymous

Remember how DEC used to handle PDP11 & VMS system software? You could use it forever, but if you wanted to restore a system to contract status, you had to buy a out-of-warranty upgrade to the current version first. The price was matched to CPU power. Software for faster processors cost more than for slower systems.

Fri, Nov 16, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

I think Xp is big brother. If I buy something I want to have control over it. I'm going to stay away from Xp.

Fri, Nov 16, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

We have already moved to windows 2000 sucessfully. With the extra requirements for XP, hardware etc we will not be using XP, neither will we wish to have to contact anybody just to make up test labs, change hardware etc. All in all, I do understand the need to prevent piracy of software, but will it. Already copies of XP are available on the street which do not require activation and even cracks have appeared for the evaluation copies. Just who are microsoft trying to get at with this activation process???

Fri, Nov 16, 2001 John Yorkshire

Problem Three - Five years from now when you try to fire up an old box to test if your new software will talk to old boxes. It dont work! You need to reactivate co's you had to put in a new card.

What assurance do we have that the re- activation centres will be there to call in the future?

Suggest MS commit to date driven expiry of restriction.

Thu, Nov 15, 2001 Ron Texas

It's amazing how many people are complaining without having stopped to learn all the details of EXACTLY what's involved in Product Activation. The comment about call volume above, for instance, is ignorant about the fact that Microsoft has contracted an entirely separate organization from their Product Support and Customer Service operations to manage the Product Activation. This is true for the US and most other countries.

Thu, Nov 15, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

I fail to understand why a company that produced software (MS-DOS and WFWGrps) that used to be given away for free to obtain the largest market share, now concerns itself so strongly with piracy of its evolutionary OS child (Windows) it wants to make it HARDER to operate! You know you can't be accused of holding a monopoly (food for thought) on something you COULD give away for free (2000, XP)! Microsoft.. wake up and push all the other products instead (like SBS 2000) or you will contine to feed the Linux children and one day soon they will grow up to be adults!

Thu, Nov 15, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

I commend Microsoft for wanting to reduce piracy, but are they really prepared for the upsurge in call volume generated by XP activations and reactivations? Good luck calling in with a _real_ problem!

Thu, Nov 15, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

As someone so aptly put it, ill-will is Microsoft's most widely distributed product.

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