Windows Product Activation

Windows Product Activation is an anti-piracy measure created by Microsoft Corporation that enforces the Windows EULA (End User License Agreement) and/or other license agreements.

If the Windows operating system is not activated within a limited period of time, it will become virtually unusable until it is activated. If Windows fails the activation, it will enter reduced functionality mode and the user will have very limited access until a valid license key is supplied. However, for Windows Vista Service Pack 1, reduced functionality mode has been removed. Windows will now periodically remind the user that their copy of Windows needs to be activated. In addition the desktop wallpaper will be changed to a solid black screen every hour.

Activation process

When installing Windows XP or Windows Vista, the user inputs their license key given to them when the product was purchased. (This is usually supplied on a Certificate of Authenticity enclosed with the product.)

After installation, the user is notified of the requirement to activate their product within 30 days.

Activation can either be performed over the Internet with a utility supplied with the software, or via a telephone call to a Microsoft agent. For activation via a telephone call, a longer "phone activation code" must be read to the Microsoft agent who supplies a code to activate Windows.

Windows Product Activation checks eight different categories of hardware:
* Display Adapter
* SCSI Adapter
* IDE Adapter
* Network Adapter (including the MAC Address)
* RAM Amount Range (e.g. 0-512 MB)
* Processor Type and Serial Number
* Hard Drive Device and Volume Serial Number
* Optical Drive (e.g. CD-ROM)

It then calculates and records a number based on the first device of each type that was found during setup, and stores this number on your hard drive. This is then sent to Microsoft, together with the Product ID number derived from the 25-character unique Product Key used in setting up Windows. In Windows XP, if Service Pack 1 is pre-installed, the entire Product Key is also transmitted so that can then be checked against a list of known pirated keys.

If activation is not performed within 30 days of the installation of the operating system, the system will boot only into "safe mode", allowing data to be retrieved from the system's hard disk but usually making it very difficult or even impossible to run any other software until Windows is activated.

If activation fails, the system will again boot only into "safe mode" until a valid license key is provided.

When activation is performed, Windows saves a record of the hardware in the user's machine. If the system is booted up with significant hardware changes, Windows will require reactivation. [ [http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/evaluation/features/activation.mspx Windows XP Product Activation ] ] Starting with Windows XP Service Pack 1, the user is given a three day grace period to reactivate. [ [http://www.microsoft.com/norge/piracy/activation_xpsp1.mspx Microsoft Product Activation: Windows XP SP1 Product Activation Details - Piratvirksomhet ] ]

Ongoing validation

Recent versions of Windows (e.g. Windows XP Service Pack 2, Windows Vista) also include a module called "WGALogon" (Windows Genuine Advantage on Logon), which attempts to regularly check if a copy of Windows is pirated. If it believes to be so, a warning is displayed on the user's desktop background and the module will begin to prompt the user to purchase a legitimate copy, disallowing the user to access any updates from Microsoft other than high-priority ones.

Windows versions with activation

All end users of Windows XP except Corporate/Volume users (who are not required to activate at all) must go through the activation process.

If a computer was made by a "royalty" OEM vendor (Dell, HP, etc.) and the original copy of Windows which was preinstalled by the vendor is being used, it is not necessary to activate. These installation images do not use the product key listed on the COA sticker on the machine, rather it uses a master product key called a System Locked Preinstallation (SLP) key which ties the activation to the machine's manufacturer name as defined in the motherboard's DMI pool. [ [http://www.walkernews.net/2007/05/06/slp-hack-to-activate-windows-vista-permanently/ Walker News] ] This ensures that the activation will only remain valid on motherboards which were supplied by that OEM.

All end users of Windows Vista, including Corporate users, are required to activate. However, corporations have the option of setting up their own activation servers, which will activate a certain number of Vista installations without needing to connect to Microsoft. The OEM master key still applies.

Microsoft's rationale

Microsoft claims [ [http://www.microsoft.com/piracy/mpa.aspx Microsoft Protect Yourself from Piracy] ] these benefits are offered by product activation.

* Microsoft can ensure that the end user is using a legally licensed copy of Windows
* Microsoft can restrict the use of certain features, or even the entire product, to users with validated software
* Microsoft can more easily enforce the Windows EULA (but note that validation problems can prevent usage of the software even when such usage does comply with the EULA)
* Microsoft can reduce piracy-related financial losses by requiring would-be pirates to purchase a legal copy of Windows
* Over time, reduced piracy means that the software industry can invest more in product development, quality and support.
* Customers will benefit from the economic impact of reduced piracy through increased job opportunities and higher wages.

Criticisms

Windows Product Activation has been criticised for the following:

* If a major hardware change is made to the machine on which Windows is running, Windows may require reactivation. This can cause difficulties if machines are modified frequently.
* After a particular copy of Windows is activated, the same Product Key cannot be used to activate again on entirely different hardware unless a certain amount of time (120 Days) has passed and/or the user can make their case to a telephone agent for activation to be permitted. This may impede users wishing to legitimately transfer their Windows license between machines. Unlike some product activation systems provided by other companies, there is no option in Windows to willfully deactivate a license to allow it to be transferred.
* Pirates may defeat it by modifying the operating system code to bypass the activation process, thus making it an inconvenience only for legitimate users.
* If a pirate steals a legitimate user's product key, or uses a key generator, then the stolen product key may be added to Microsoft's blacklist, potentially resulting in a legitimate user's product key refusing to activate or triggering a Windows Genuine Advantage notification that the copy of Windows is not genuine.
* Since Windows product activation is part of the operating system, if the copy of Windows fails the activation, it is shut down, along with all other software on the machine, including software not made by Microsoft and not subject to activation. Some criticswho see this as an unacceptable extension of authority. This behavior has been removed as of Windows Vista Service Pack 1, meaning that users will now continue to have full access to their system. However, they will be prompted regularly with reminders that Windows needs to be activated.

References

ee also

*Product Activation
*Windows XP
*Windows Vista
*Windows Genuine Advantage

External links

* [http://www.licenturion.com/xp/fully-licensed-wpa.txt Inside Windows Product Activation]
* [http://wiki.djlizard.net/Product_IDs Microsoft Product IDs]
* [http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=328874 How to change a Microsoft Product Key]
* [http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/evaluation/features/activation.mspx Windows XP Product Activation]
* [http://www.microsoft.com/piracy/activation.mspx Software Piracy Protection: Microsoft Product Activation]
* [http://aumha.org/win5/a/wpa.htm Windows Product Activation (WPA) on Windows XP]
* [http://www.microsoft.com/piracy/activation_faq.mspx Product Activation FAQ]


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