Xtra Panic?

HardOCP has a piece purportedly from a Microsoft employee explaining how the protection scheme for XP products is supposed to work.

I don’t doubt they got the email, and that it came from somebody associated with Microsoft. I do have to wonder, though, just how well they think this is going to work.

Essentially, they’re keeping track of how often a number gets used. If it’s too much with different configurations; it won’t get activated any more.

But what’s too much?

The MS respondent’s statements are a bit inconsistent. He first says that a customer who goes through “a few complete computer overhauls” will be OK. That doesn’t seem to indicate a very high threshold.

He also says that wiping Windows every month with a new configuration should be OK, too. That indicates a much higher threshold.

He states that a thousand configurations isn’t OK.

Lot of room between a dozen times a year and a thousand. Where does the line get drawn?

He says that this is not aimed at warez folks. (Actually, it will catch warez fools who go to MS for activation exceedingly well, but he’s right in that serious warezers will use some sort of crack to disable the function.)

It may also be aimed at the Third World, which I spoke about a few months back. The MS source says it is meant
for people sharing copies of their OSs with friends and family, which he says is the “most common form of Windows piracy.”

I don’t doubt that’s true, though I doubt official MS policy considers those folks individually as Public Enemy Number One. No doubt shoplifting
is a bigger problem in the world than piracy nowadays, but you’d hardly confuse the two.

My real problem is that this story doesn’t quite fit, for two reasons:

  • The average person rarely reinstalls an OS and
  • A big source of “borrowed” OSs has been and will become more likely to be from the corporate copies of XP, which will have no activation requirement.

    I would guess that most of the time, a legal OS copy (at least in the postindustrial world) doesn’t have on average too many offspring. Let’s assume three or four (no doubt some percentage will spread like wildfire). Mr. Enthusiast will probably reinstall his OS more often than those three or four borrowers will combined.

    If Mr. Hardware Enthusiast is the standard, the vast majority of sharing will go unnoticed. I find it very hard to believe MS would go through all this and then set a limit that wouldn’t catch the targeted group.

    What I find much more believable is that the standard will be set at a level more than high enough for the vast majority of users, but below what many Mr. Enthusiasts would need.

    The Real Danger?

    What I find greatly disturbing is the presumption of piracy in the email for an overused key. I don’t have a problem with that if a number’s been used with a thousand or even a hundred configurations. I have a big problem with that if the magic number is six or eight. So should you.

    If that’s the case, let’s hope Microsoft policy hasn’t “forgotten to include any reference to possible grounds for acquittal.”

    That quote doesn’t come from the MS email. It comes from The Gulag Archipelago and refers to a little something the Soviets left out once in their “Fundamental Principles of Criminal Prosecution of the U.S.S.R.” Great minds think alike? 🙂

    Proving guilt is a snap when you prohibit innocence.

    I hope I’m wrong about this, but it needs to be cleared up right away.

    The key issue is “What’s the magic number?” Set it too high, and MS doesn’t catch anybody. Set it too low, and people like you get caught in the nets.

    Timebombs are not a big gift item. Especially when you don’t know how long the fuse is. Those most likely to have it blow up in their faces are going to defuse it right away, legally or not.

    The maybe-it’s-even-legal solution is to get a corporate version. Folks like us could get a corporate version completely aboveboard (whether that could be extended to you is much more questionable). There will certainly be gray-market solutions (at least eventually).

    The sad reality, though, is that the lesson the average person will learn from MS will be “Don’t buy it and make copies; steal it from work instead.” The Dark Side will get a big boost, even from people who never would have gone there without this.

    Microsoft certainly has the right to protect its intellectual property. But for Gates’ sakes, do it right.

    Email Ed

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