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Microsoft Reveals Vista Volume Licensing Plans

With the corporate delivery of Windows Vista imminent, Microsoft is also rolling out a new volume licensing scheme for business customers.

Meanwhile, the company yesterday backed away from consumer licensing terms that would have only let a purchaser move Vista from one PC to another a single time, after a marketplacewide outcry that the restrictions were too harsh.

Under Microsoft's new volume licensing program, dubbed Volume Activation 2.0, for Vista and Windows Server "Longhorn," each Vista license acquired under a volume license agreement needs to be activated -- a switch from previous programs.

The primary goal: "Close significant piracy loopholes (Volume License keys represent the majority of keys involved in Windows piracy)," say documents Microsoft posted online this week.

Volume Activation 2 provides two types of keys to customers. Multiple Activation Keys (MAK) are resident on individual computers, but are encrypted and kept in a trusted store, so that users are not exposed to it and are unable to obtain it once installed on the computer. A second type, called a Key Management Service (KMS) Key, is only installed on the KMS host and never on individual computers.

Customers are allowed to use any of the keys depending on the needs of their organization and its network infrastructure, the company says.

Volume editions of Vista do not require a product key to be entered during setup. The company provides an automatic 30-day grace period during which the computer must be activated, after which unactivated computers go into what Microsoft calls "reduced functionality mode" – the user is "forcibly logged off."

With MAK activation, each product key can activate a specific number of computers. MAK activation is required only once, unless there are significant changes made to the hardware afterwards.

In comparison, a KMS key is used to enable KMS on a computer controlled by the system administrator in an organization. KMS activation is targeted at managed environments where more than 25 computers are connected to the organizational network. Windows Vista PCs activate by connecting to a central Windows Vista computer running KMS.

Key Management Service (KMS) enables organizations to perform local activations for computers in a managed environment without the need to connect to Microsoft. However, MAK activation requires a centralized activation request on behalf of multiple desktops with one connection to Microsoft, or an individual request on behalf of a single computer -- either via the Internet or via a phone call.

The company also announced it is making it easier for users who purchase copies of Vista for their own use -- for instance, users who build their own computers -- to move their license rights to machines in a serial manner. Previously, it had announced that users would only be able to move Vista once.

According to a Microsoft spokesperson, the terms now read: "You may uninstall the software and install it on another device for your use. You may not do so to share this license between devices."

Microsoft's Volume Activation 2.0 documentation is available here.

Microsoft's licensing terms for consumer releases of Vista is available here.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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