Enhancing The Hassle . . .

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There’s a word that dares not speak its name when it comes to Vista and its adaptation, at least in this audience: warez. No doubt many expect to grab Vista as soon as possible, simply because they expect to get it free.

Not that we’re in favor of that, but we’d have to be blind, deaf and exceptionally dumb not to know that’s what a sizable chunk of hardware people are doing.

MS outlines what it plans to do to ruin such plans here.

One rather huge loophole in an anti-piracy effort by MS has been the corporate “versions” of programs like XP. Actually, it’s a matter of corporate keys. Use a corporate key, and there’s no activation by MS, hence, no check on whether the key is bogus or not.

Warez people have liked this very much, and, combined with keymakers, it’s pretty much made a joke of the rest of MS’s efforts.

Well, that’s going to stop. With Vista, there will be no more “magic key.” Corporate users will need to activate, either to the company’s server, or to MS’s. Corporations will be given keys good for only X activations. After X, a company will have to pay for more activations.

Not that this will bother any warezers in the slightest, but if some warez puppy posts a copy of Vista with a corporate key, the corporation will soon find out they have no more activations left. After no doubt a heated phone call or two to MS, a certain activation key is going to be blocked very, very quickly. Or, if activation is to be done through the company’s servers, well, you might not end up being able to activate at all.

Eventually, one might expect key generators, which will make poaching less blatant, but again, you’re walking into an unknown. You’re going to have to activate someplace, and you’re not going to know with whom or where, and whatever you do, it will be trackable.

None of these are warez-killers, but it will make life rather more difficult. I think MS will be blocking keys a lot more quickly than they did with XP.

The warez response to that will no doubt be an activation crack, and MS has plans for that, too. As they put it:

“. . . the Software Protection Platform also has a set of technologies to determine whether a copy of Windows Vista is genuine or not. When Windows Vista detects an invalid product key, tampered license files, attempts to hack products activation or other indications that the software is not or is no longer genuine Microsoft software, it will display messages to the user and some functionality will be affected. Once in a non-genuine state, certain designated features will be disabled and the system may be required to reactivate and/or perform a successful validation to restore those features or prevent further loss of functionality. If the system is required to reactivate, a 30-day grace period will be provided, after which time the system will be moved into a reduced functionality mode (described below) if it fails to activate.”

So if Vista figures out you’re up to no good, it will shut down or greatly reduce the functionality of certain noncritical features (i.e, Windows Aero, Defender, ReadyBoost, Download Center/Windows Update) right away, and if you don’t fly right within 30 days after that, the computer goes into “reduced functionality mode,” and they aren’t kidding:

“There is no start menu, no desktop icons, and the desktop background is changed to black. The Web browser will fully function and Internet connectivity will not be blocked. After one hour, the system will log the user out without warning. It will not shut down the machine, and the user can log back in.”

MS’s statement implies that key activation files will be somehow scanned for tampering. Now this may be thorough and well-thought out, it may well not. At the least, it will probably make an activation crack somewhat more difficult, if MS did a good job, a lot more difficult.

Equipment Changes

Legitimate users will be concerned about what Vista will do when they change equipment. They have reason to be concerned.

First, it’s not clear whether an OEM copy of Vista purchased from a retailer will be usable with any motherboard, or whether OEM copies will be tied to specific mobos:

OEM Activation for Windows Vista improves on this initiative, making the process easier for OEMs and making it much harder for pirates to crack the system by ensuring that Windows Vista SKUs licensed to an OEM will function only on that OEM’s hardware. With this innovation, counterfeiters attempting to use Windows media improperly will be unable to install and activate the product using media intended for recovery and reinstall that is distributed by an OEM.
Advantages of OEM activation include persistent activation, activation without connecting to any activation provider, and the ability for OEMs to use custom media images. (The recovery media is also activated.) Additional requirements for the customer are the need to maintain recovery media specific to each OEM system configuration versus having a generic image to use across all hardware.

It’s clear that this is supposed to stop your cousin’s copy of Vista from installing on your machine; it’s not so clear whether it also means Newegg will have to sell mobo-specific copies of Vista. We’ll have to see.

In any event, in case you didn’t know, an OEM copy of Windows (this applies to XP, too) is meant for one machine only, and MS defines “machine” as motherboard. (Retail copies can be used whereever.) So if you buy an OEM copy of the OS, then change mobos, MS expects you to buy another OEM copy (or at least have you call and sad-talk them into believing your mobo broke).

With Vista, whether one uses the OEM or retail version, you will need to reactivate within 3 days of replacing the mobo (in the case of OEM), or making “a major hardware replacement” or you go into the dreaded reduced functionality mode.

What’s going to happen in the case of OEM copies, of course, is that if you try to activate with a new mobo, you’ll get a nice screen telling you to get a new product key, and on the phone you’ll go. Retail users, well, just reactivate in three days, OK?

The End Result?

Will MS’s measures end warez copies of Vista? That’s very doubtful. Will it end hassle-free warez copies? That’s a lot more likely. Those using bogus or faked product keys will have a higher initial failure rate and more deactivations to contend with. Those out to crack their way out of this will have to wait for more sophisticated, more-difficult-to-use cracks.

In a sentence, doable if you’re determined and knowledgable enough, but not nearly as easy as it is today.



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