When Windows Product Activation was announced for Windows XP, the predictions from some were dire. Surely, it was argued, this onerous burden and the certain failures of it to operate properly would finally inspire people to move from Windows.
Of course it didnt turn out that way. Activation has been, at worst, a minor nuisance. Such will be the case with awkwardly named Genuine Microsoft Software program, an anti-piracy initiative that has been voluntary for some time but that, it now appears, will be made mandatory some time in the second half of 2005.
The descriptions on Microsofts Web page for this initiative focus on the good things that will come from using Genuine Windows, and from participating in the program, which for now is voluntary. A few of the advantages are tangible: Get a free copy of Photo Story 3 for Windows, for example. Many of the advantages given, however, are just marketing goo about having the richest and most reliable experience.
The real point of this program is to make you pay for Windows if you want to get all the things youre going to need, like security updates. In fact, the marketing-speak on the Genuine this and that page implies that it perhaps will be mandatory. After all, why would you need Genuine Windows for the fastest, most reliable access to updates, unless its required? Theres no point in such a program being voluntary except as a test period before its made mandatory.
In the new phase, when you want to download some Microsoft updates you will need to run an ActiveX control that confirms your copy of Windows XP is activated and legal. If its not activated, you are asked to do so (which you need to do, in any event, not long after you get your PC). If you dont have the key you need to do this, it may still be possible to satisfy the program with information about where you bought your PC and Windows. Microsoft has a demo in case you want to see exactly how this works.
If you have a legal and activated copy of Windows, the process is over before you know it, and you never have to go through it again on that computer. Its not clear to me what the program does on versions of Windows prior to Windows XP, or on copies of it that dont require activation, such as corporate site licenses, but I know it does run on Windows 2000.
Clearly, Microsoft has a heavy burden to make sure this process runs correctly as close to 100 percent of the time as possible. They seem to have done that with Product Activation and have biased Activation toward letting the user run the software as opposed to denying it. I am sure they will do the same in this case.
But if you have Internet Explorers security set to High or—Heaven forbid!run Firefox or some other "non-standard" browser, you may have some problems. But youd have all the same problems with Windows Update, so you need to solve them anyway.
Whenever I write about Microsofts anti-piracy efforts I get a few e-mails from users who tell me how easy it is to bypass and where to download the software and keys I need. Putting aside the fact that stealing is wrong—a point that seems lost on many of these people—there is no doubt in my mind that Microsoft would not institute a program like this unless they knew it would make a practical difference.
They always said Activation was about stopping "casual piracy" and the Windows Genuine Advantage program is just more of the same. Activation has been a non-issue for 99+ percent of users, and the same will be true of Windows Genuine Advantage.
Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.
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