Microsoft Waters Down Activation

This week, Microsoft published an informative paper intended to provide clear answers to customers who are concerned about, or feel reservations toward, product activation in Windows XP. The paper introduces another concession that the software giant has granted power users ever since a whirlwind of confusion and misinformation swept the tide of public opinion against the technology. After clarification by the paper's primary author, Allen Nieman, it appeared as if the company was prepared to be even more flexible than was previously thought.

The document located at the Microsoft Anti-Piracy Web site, states that four Internet activations will be allowed before a user must telephone Microsoft. It was originally accepted that up to three changes would be allowed, as long as none consisted of a complete system hardware swap. However, a more lenient policy is being exercised. According to Nieman, the company has plans to offer a "time-based clean slate."

A grace period of 120 days between activations will open a window for power users to install Windows on a separate PC than the machine initially activated. This means power users can perform substantial hardware changes without worry. Nieman pointed out that customers are still bound by the End User License Agreement (EULA) and cannot install on more than one PC at a time.

Admittedly, this grace period does provide for a watered down version of WPA. Nieman told BetaNews, "What we are doing here is further fulfilling our strategy of erring on the side of the user - even to the extent that our effectiveness might be reduced. Microsoft firmly believes in striking that balance."

The Redmond giant has also decided to allow OEMS to ship pre-activated PCs directly to customers. The plan to offer pre-activation has been in the works over several months and requires BIOS information to be constructed in a specific manner. Nieman predicated that mainly large and medium sized OEMs will be able to participate given that constraint.

Because the dependency of pre-activated machines rests on BIOS information rather than a hardware hash, the prospect of defeating WPA through installing Windows on machines within the same brand name was raised. Nieman dismissed the idea, stating that the different BIOS information among target PCs would make it unfeasible.

The publishing of the technical details behind WPA follows a whitepaper by Fully Licensed GmbH detailing the process. Microsoft had always planned to clarify activation, but believed it would best to wait until final changes were complete.

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