Buy one get none free

By | November 14, 2001

Gone are the days when you can buy a single copy of Windows and pass it to your friend, your friend’s friends, your girlfriend, your girlfriend’s boyfriend…

In the spirit of sharing, we’ve all become accidental pirates. But no longer.

You see, the software giant is now determined to put the brakes on casual copying, an activity that Microsoft claims is very prevalent and has been estimated by some industry trade groups to account for a staggering 50% of the economic losses due to piracy. With the new Windows XP product activation mechanism, getting a single copy of the OS to even run on both your desktop and your laptop can be a challenge, let alone allow that distant cousin of yours to enjoy a free ride.

Here’s briefly how product activation works: When you install XP on your computer, it makes a hardware ID of your computer’s hardware configuration. When you activate your copy of XP, this ID is transmitted to Microsoft together with the CD key that you’ve entered. The information is then deposited in a database so that if another computer tries to use the same copy of XP, the product activation feature will limit its use until things get cleared up. In addition, Windows XP has a 60-day limit to be activated. After the time limit, it won’t work.

This means that you’ll probably have to pay for every copy of XP loaded on every computer you own.

It is thus not surprising that numerous cracks and patches designed to disable or circumvent the product activation feature have been floating on Usenet newsgroups as well as on various “warez” channels on Internet Relay Chat (IRC).

One of these cracks claims to reset the computer’s internal clock, so as to fool XP into believing that the user still has 60 days to activate the software. Another patch purports to disable the activation feature entirely by replacing files that need to be activated with non-activated version from the professional edition. Ironically, the internal build number of XP assigned by Microsoft coincides with the name of the infamous hacker quarterly 2600.

Cracking Windows XP may or may not be difficult, but in this cat-and-mouse game, it’s the average consumer who may end up on the losing side. Imagine if you were to buy a copy of Windows XP for which the CD key has been illegally generated, and used, by someone else. Congratulations! You’ve just paid for nothing because your copy of XP is now unable to be activated.

In this case, abusing the product activation feature is not only stealing from Microsoft; it’s also stealing from people who actually paid for their copy of XP.

Of course Microsoft has every right to protect its intellectual property, but this is hardly the best way to go about it. The company’s safest bet is to remove the product activation feature, or allow the installation on a specific number of machines with different configurations.

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