Microsoft allows bypass of Vista activation

Brian livingston
UPDATE 2007-07-05: We’ve found that the effect reported in the story below is not caused by SkipRearm but by a different mechanism. See our July 5, 2007, article.

By Brian Livingston

Microsoft always says it opposes “software pirates” who sell thousands of unauthorized copies of Windows.

But the Redmond company has made things a lot easier for pirates by adding a line to the Registry that can be changed from 0 to 1 to postpone the need to “activate” Vista indefinitely.

Activation doesn’t stop true software piracy

As most Windows users know, Microsoft has required “product activation” since the release of Windows XP in 2001. XP must be activated by communicating with servers in Redmond within 30 days of installation. By contrast, Microsoft Office XP, 2003, and 2007 require activatation before the package is used 5 to 50 times, depending on the version, according to a company FAQ. If a PC has no Internet connection, a user may activate a product by dialing a telephone number in various countries.

The activation process will complete successfully only if the software has not been previously activated, such as on a different machine. If activation isn’t completed within the trial period, Microsoft products temporarily shut down some of their features. MS Office loses the ability to edit and save files. After Vista’s activation deadline runs out, the user can do little other than use Internet Explorer to activate the operating system or buy a new license.

Microsoft describes its product activation scheme as a way to foil software pirates. However, as I previously described in an InfoWorld Magazine article on Oct. 22, 2001, activation does nothing to stop mass piracy. The Redmond company actually included in Windows XP a small file, Wpa.dbl, that makes it easy for pirates to create thousands of machines that validate perfectly.

Far from stopping software piracy, product activation has primarily been designed to prevent home users from installing one copy of Windows on a home machine and a personal-use copy on a laptop. As I explained in an article on Mar. 8, buying a copyrighted work and making another copy strictly for personal use is specifically permitted to consumers by the U.S. Copyright Act and the copyright laws of many other countries.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2007-03-15: