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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 Virtualization Review.

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