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Facts about XP Activation

Written By:
Date Posted: March 19, 2002

We would like to thank Microsoft for the 2002 BMW M5.

I wish. It's been about 5 months since we've looked at Windows Product Activation, and given our traffic logs, it's still a popular topic. I decided to update the article on news that's changed since we last talked about it, but my opinion hasn't changed.

1) Windows XP is, in my opinion, the best MS operating system released. Notice, I said Microsoft. There are other non-MS solutions, so it's not like anyone is telling you to install XP.

2) Product Activation was over-hyped. 5 months later, I rarely hear complaints about it anymore. Then again, I don't frequent lame, "down with MS" conversations nearly enough. I have more important chores, like formatting and defragging my floppies.

3) Windows XP is not going to revolutionize the PC experience.

4) I still don't know what the fuss is about. If you want it, buy it. If you don't want it, keep you money in your wallet, or download it off your favorite goat pr0n ftp site.

Want to know a secret? Believe it or not, I've actually purchased every OS I've ever used. My first PC came pre-installed with DOS, then my next with Windows 95. Since then, I've always bought and put together my own computers, so I didn't have the benefit of having an OS pre-installed. I bought Windows 98, was given Windows 98SE, and bought Windows NT 4.0 used. Ok, technically, that wasn't really legal I guess, since all I got was an original CD, and the product code written on a post it note, but it was cheap. I bought an OEM copy of Windows 2000, even though I didn't buy a computer with it. I skipped Windows ME altogether since I tried it at work and hated it. I have "forgotten" my various CDs at a friend's place on a few occasions, but I never gave out "my" product key.

Now, Windows XP is upon us, and for the first time since Windows 95 (though I thought Windows 2000 was pretty kick ass), Microsoft has released an operating system I think you should run out and get. Granted, I'm a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), which means that I'm supposed to be a M$ guru and M$ product pusher. For the most part, I'll admit looking to a Microsoft solution first, but I won't hesitate for a second if a better, non-Microsoft solution arises. I get plenty annoyed with Microsoft, but I don't hate them, nor do I hate Bill Gates. Heck, I don't even know the guy. Monopoly? I don't really care. It's a free market, and I suppose it's fair game for anyone who wants to make a buck. I'm not going to go into a rant about their strong arm tactics, Linux is better, them suppressing innovation, nor do I want to hear anything about this. There are a whole lot of people who hate Windows XP for stupid reasons, and the majority of them are doing so just to be on the bandwagon. The common argument? Activation.

Windows Activation

Why is this so bad? Piracy is detrimental to software companies and developers, and Microsoft decided that this was the best way about it. All of you have been stopped by cdkeys, please raise your hand. Exactly. Nobody. Product activation is the way to go, and anyone who registers their products should be used to this. I agree, it's going to be annoying to constantly reactivate if you change a lot of components or reinstall your OS a lot, but since the activation is done online, and only by phone occasionally, it's not that big a deal. Microsoft makes plenty of money, and they want to continue doing so. Preventing piracy is one step, and product activation was their choice of going about it. All the power to them.

What is it exactly Microsoft wants to stop? Well, at an OEM builders conference I attended recently, they tried to push the idea that say you're a vendor who sells a PC, with Windows pre-installed for 1000$. A competitor sells the same thing for 900$ less. How is this possible? Well, that vender MUST be selling illegal software installed, and didn't pay for his license. Anyhow, I don't buy that story so much, and the real reason for activation is to stop casual copying. Like in the first paragraph of this article, Microsoft doesn't want a person to install their OS on every PC in their house, if they only paid for one copy. They also want to discourage loaning your copy to friends and neighbours. Everyone has to buy one.

As for M$ dropping prices in the near future, don't bet on it. .NET is coming, and it'll be a new way for them to juice your hard earned cash.

Activation Steals Our Hardware Info

I laugh when I hear this. Countless numbers regularly post their system specs in their online signatures, overclocking forums and databases. Sure, you don't want the "man" to know what you have, but you have no problems posting everything you own in a chat room. Sure, I'll admit the idea of M$ knowing all is a bit creepy, but guess what? Your credit card company knows a heck of a lot more about you than you may think. If you're worried about online weirdos tracking your porn surfing habits, your credit card company will certainly know when you buy that goat pr0n video. Nevermind the fact that your doctor, lawyer, ISP, and next-door neighbour knows more about you than Microsoft.

Registration is another story. Typically, I register all my products to receive email spam updates, and personal info like my name and email address are given voluntarily. This brings up my next point, registration is optional. Activation is mandatory. Both acquire completely different information from you.

But I constantly upgrade! Activation is going to kill me...

I don't have any confirmed numbers here, but speaking to a fellow colleague at a Windows Developer conference last week, she told me there are two numbers to know, ...Seven and nine. She says that those numbers indicate the number of times you can upgrade a laptop or PC. Now, she says the number nine refers to laptops, though I'd think it'd be the other way around. Then again, it may be correct since laptop users constantly switch module bays so they have more changes allowed.

Now, the point behind these numbers is that you don't actually have 7 changes to various hardware before needing to reactivate. The number refers to the total number of classes. So, if you switch your GeForce 3 for a S3 Virge, then sober up, and put it back, that's not 2 changes, but only one. You can change 18 video cards, but it will only count towards one.

Update: Figures that I should ask a M$ employee for figures, but the number seems more like 4 and 6. Four changes are allowed, if you change your network card, and six if you don't. I guess there's a reason I'm still using this ISA 3Com NIC.

Reinstalling is another story. Obviously, a reinstall of an OS will warrant a reactivation. To save yourself a bunch of hassles, I'd suggest running an imaging software such as Norton Ghost. I have successfully restored my Windows XP install several times, and without issue. This was of course done on the same machine.

Like I mentioned earlier, activation can be done online, or by phone. Most people probably have access to the Internet, so that may be the way to go. But, let's say that your ISP went down while reinstalling. You can simply call. From what I hear, the time it takes to reactivate over the phone is about five minutes. What if your phone company is also down? Well, you really still have no excuse since activation isn't required for the first 30 days anyways.

Update: I got a few user comments, that I feel can be used to expand on this article a little bit. Here are a few snips and comments I have...

"Like many corporations, I want as simple a computer environment asI can get. That means I want to run one version of windows withexactly the same service packs, patches etc on all client desktops. I've found it takes much less work if versions are the same across the corporation. With Windows XP, each brand of machine has its own OEM version and I'm stuck with small differences on each. I can't reimage since the licenses are "locked" to each machine" - M.D.

Good points, but this is what I learned about corporations who buy corporate licenses and OEMs, ... You get one copy of the media, and "x" number of licenses. Since there isn't any activation, and only one product key, this problem you mention should't be a problem. Trust me, I asked about this since I'm guessing we're in the same field. I don't want to sit in front of a 100 PCs reinstalling and reactivating. I make heavy use of disk clones, and I was told I can continue doing so. As for buying a bare machine w/o an OS, even if I wanted to use Win2k (no activation of course), technically, I am required to have a license for it. Do I always in these cases? Maybe... ;)

"As for activation, what if I don't want to upgrade XP for the next say five years, is Microsoft going to allow me to use XP or are they essentially going to force me to upgrade to the next OS down the road by deactivating XP?

Next, I'm sure it'll be that dreaded subscription scheme we all know MS has been having wet dreams about; "pay your yearly (biannually/quarterly/monthly) fee, or else we make your computer go belly-up." It's no biggie, right? It's just a little more invasive than the registration scheme we're all so used to by now, right?" - G.H.

I too am worried about a subscription scheme, but I don't know of any sure plans as of yet. As for deactivating in 5 years (like you mention in another email), I can tell you that *I* was told that wouldn't happen. It doesn't mean MS will do something shady to make us upgrade. I read a licensing article at that was very disturbing. Take Windows NT 4 Server. If you wanted to serve up web pages, you only need to download the Option Pack 4. Now, to move people to 2000, they break up the option pack from one downloadable file, to over 100. Oh,...if you buy Win2k, IIS 5 is built in. Bah!

Final Words

Having mucked around with XP for a while now, I still don't see any huge improvements over Windows 2000, like how Win2k did with Windows NT. On one hand, Windows XP is more than a regular service pack with some nice UI and technology improvements, but on the other, if you're using Win2k with everything updated, you'll be fine with that. Both perform about the same overall, though XP does load up a lot faster.

On the other hand, anyone still using a version of Win9x, or NT Workstation should certainly upgrade. If you considered Windows 2000 in the past, but held off, XP is the OS to get. You hear stories about Microsoft security problems, and being in the industry, I can confirm those reports as being true. Although home users for the most part are spared the major ones, like IIS security, they are still at risk. As usual, I suggest running an up to date virus scanner, personal firewall and staying up to date with Microsoft patches.

So else what do I have to say? Not much really, but here's a thought that should enlighten some of the WinXP naysayers, ...if you want it, buy it. If you don't want it, keep your wallet in your pocket. Like computer hardware, there isn't any point griping about technology moving too quickly. If you don't need an upgrade, there isn't a reason to. If you want the latest, then buy it.

In the case of XP, ultimately, it's the activation that bothers these people, and a good number of arguments stem from this feature alone. If you pay for XP, this isn't an issue. No matter how many times you reactivate, Microsoft will never disqualify you from your product. That is, they won't say, "Ok, that was activation number ten. You'll need to buy another copy of XP".

If activation bothers you, just don't buy it.

In my opinion, activation is targeting the wrong people. It isn't home users they should worry about, since they're a drop in the bucket. It's usually the corporate users who abuse licenses. Guess what? Their copies are activation free. Go figure. Probably the reason why we don't hear much about WPA anymore, is because the majority (not all) of the complainers simply grabbed their warez copies of XP Corporate Edition.

Luckily, this wasn't a tough decision for me since MS was nice enough to send me a copy. Well, I had to miss a day of work and sit in a fairly dumb and boring seminar, but that's the price you pay for being cheap :P

Post Article Comments: It's amazing how lame some people could be. It's always nice to talk to an intelligent person, whether or not they agree. It's actually rather tiresome when the whole point of the article was simply to try to address WPA (which I should get around to editing since I've learned some new things since) and if you don't like it, skip it. Next thing you know, it degenerates into a troll fest and flames. Oh well. I guess I'll pass those to my man VoOdOo ;)

Just stick with that POS Windows 95, or upgrade to a real OS distro like Debian.




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