Peer-to-Peer Enables Windows XP Swaps

Hundreds of illegal copies of Microsoft's new Windows XP operating system - and instructions on how to bypass its copy-protection scheme - are already floating around the Internet's peer-to-peer networks.

Hundreds of illegal copies of Microsofts new Windows XP operating system - and instructions on how to bypass its copy-protection scheme - are already floating around the Internets peer-to-peer networks.

Hacking tips being shared on P2P networks purport to work around the very product-activation measures that Microsoft built into Windows XP to prevent such piracy. A file called "WindowsxpCrackMethod.txt," obtained via the Gnutella network, describes a few simple steps that allegedly disable the product activation feature. The file, which includes a 20-character key required to install XP, steps users through booting the operating system into Safe Mode and then altering the Windows registry settings to indicate that the software has already been activated.

When Microsoft launched Windows XP on Oct. 25, the company reiterated details of its product activation requirement. During installation, XP, unlike previous versions of Windows, generates a unique ID based on the PCs hardware that must be sent to Microsoft either over the Internet or by phone. The feature is supposed to cut down on piracy and what Microsoft calls "casual copying" to ensure that each copy of XP is installed on no more than one physical computer.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company is monitoring the "growing problem" of P2P networks swapping its software. She declined to say whether any hacks have successfully bypassed XPs product activation feature, but said, "Microsoft isnt surprised that hackers are eventually able to circumvent the technology."

While copies of the Windows XP code are available on P2P networks, obtaining them is cumbersome. Even on a broadband connection, downloading the full version of Windows XP could take 12 hours or longer because of network congestion. Interactive Weeks repeated attempts to confirm certain details by downloading pirated versions of Windows XP were unsuccessful because the PCs hosting the files reported being overwhelmed with requests.

Keyword searches last week for "Windows XP" on the Gnutella and Morpheus P2P networks revealed dozens of computers in Canada, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands and the U.S. hosting what appeared to be full versions of Windows XP Home Edition and XP Professional ranging in size from 455 megabytes to 600 MB. The two most popular Gnutella clients, which download files directly from another users PC rather than from a central server, are BearShare and LimeWire.

For Microsoft, this illicit software trading is mainly an annoyance. Microsoft probably will not lose significant revenue to the piracy, since users attempting to download Windows XP wouldnt have been likely to buy it otherwise.