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Loophole Emerges With Windows XP Copy Controls
Loophole Emerges With Windows XP Copy Controls
Microsoft gives home users a multicopy break, and activation proves not airtight.
Yardena Arar, PCWorld.com
Monday, September 03, 2001
At $99 per copy, buying upgrades to Microsoft Windows XP for several systems can add up. But Microsoft is amending its licensing and copy control policies, announcing this week a small price break for buyers of multiple copies and acknowledging what appears to be a loophole in its licensing policy.
People who buy one shrink-wrapped upgrade copy of the new operating system at full price can get a small price break for purchasing additional licenses. Also, Microsoft is offering some new details about various features of the new operating system, including Windows Messenger, MovieMaker, and Media Player for Windows XP.
Windows XP shipped to PC manufacturers on August 24 and is on target for its general release on October 25, Microsoft says.
Easing Product Activation
Windows Product Activation is what Microsoft calls the technology it created to cut down on so-called casual copying of its software--for example, installing the same license on several PCs in a home or small office. WPA creates a numeric identifier of a PC's hardware by looking at ten different components.
That data is transmitted to Microsoft along with the product key, the 25-character code found on the installation CD that users enter during installation. (Those who don't have Internet access must call Microsoft and read both long numbers to a representative). Subsequently, if the OS is reinstalled--say, after an upgrade--WPA generates the numeric identifier again and sends it to a Microsoft server that checks it against the original identifier. If the two are significantly different, the PC can't be used until another call is made to Microsoft.
"We will never assume the user is lying or misrepresenting. We will assume the user is honest," says Mark Croft, lead product manager.
The technology has drawn criticism from people who frequently upgrade PC components and fear they'll be unjustly tagged as software pirates. However, Microsoft now says users won't trigger a challenge under Product Activation unless multiple components are changed within a short time period.
A 120-Day Loophole
If the card isn't changed in PCs with network cards, one would have to change at least six additional components for Product Activation to flag a reinstall. For PCs without network cards, or if a network card is changed, Product Activation would challenge a reinstall only after three or four additional components are changed, Croft says.
And either way, all those changes would have to be made within about four months for Product Activation to raise an alarm. Microsoft has modified the procedure to let users start with a clean slate every 120 days. In theory, one could install Windows XP on a second PC 120 days after the first one was activated and the duplicate alphanumeric identifier wouldn't be challenged.
People who buy new PCs with Windows XP preinstalled are even less likely to run into Windows Product Activation challenges. When XP is factory-installed on a PC, it identifies the machine solely by looking at its BIOS. Users would have to swap out the motherboard for one from a completely different vendor before the PC would identify the action as a reinstall and require contact with Microsoft to continue.
Croft acknowledges that some people may use the 120-day window to install XP on a second machine unchallenged. While Microsoft will assume a customer is being honest about their call for activation, "that does not mean they should break the license agreement," he says.
If Microsoft sees the same copy of Windows XP being used for several installations on different PCs, "we will suspect that systematic illegal activity is going on" and possibly begin a piracy investigation, Croft adds.
Microsoft is also offering a price break to people who buy multiple upgrade copies of Windows XP to update several systems.
A new Additional Family License program lets people who have already purchased one upgrade copy of the $199 Windows XP Professional or the $99 Home Edition to buy additional key codes (the 25-digit alphanumeric code required during installation). The price will be $8 to $12 less than that of the shrink-wrapped software, Croft says. The same installation CD can be used for upgrades, using a new key code number each time.
Croft says the Additional Family License program is intended not so much to ease the financial sting of multiple upgrades, but just to make the process simpler for customers who buy Windows XP for one PC and later decide to put it on several systems. Since the additional licenses will be sold online, the program saves customers the trouble of returning to a store or ordering another shrink-wrapped copy. At the same time, Microsoft saves money on packaging, shipping, and the CD itself.
Keeping Customers Satisfied?
Both the Additional Family License discounts and the 120-day product activation loophole appear to be small concessions to consumers who in the past may have flouted Microsoft's licensing provisions by using one copy of a new OS to upgrade several PCs.
"Microsoft is trying to get more revenue out of software sales in the home," says analyst Chris LeTocq of Guernsey Research. At the same time, however, Microsoft doesn't want to anger customers--hence the small price discount and the product activation loophole.
"It's not Stalag 17, barbed wire, guys with machine guns," LeTocq says. "It's more like, we're going to put a little speed bump in here."
Previously, users didn't have to deal with Microsoft at all if they broke the license by using one CD for multiple installs, he adds. "Now, the bar has been raised," LeTocq says. "You can probably still do it, but you have to have the cojones to do it."
The shipping version of XP has several minor changes from the release candidates.
Windows Media Player for XP: In release candidate 2, Media Player could rip audio CDs to 56-bit MP3s. The final version, however, has no built-in MP3 ripping capability. Instead, you'll be invited to pay $10 to download one of a couple of third-party plug-ins.
Windows MovieMaker: Windows XP's basic video editing application supports 320-by-240 resolution videos only. However, when Windows XP launches, Microsoft says you'll be able to download support for 640-by-480 resolution video.
Windows Messenger: This new instant messaging client will be available in Windows XP only, but will pick up MSN Messenger buddy lists. Users can conduct text chats with MSN Messenger buddies, but can use Windows Messenger's video and audio chat features with fellow XP users only. However, Windows Messenger uses Session Initiation Protocol, a telephony standard that makes it interoperable with other SIP-compliant applications.
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