Microsoft Corporation announced today that its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system will incorporate an expanded version of the company’s Windows Product Activation technology. After installation, Windows Vista users will have 30 days to “activate” Vista by providing a product key. If a user does not supply a valid product key, Vista will let users buy a product key online, obtain a product key using a telephone rather than the Internet, or step down to a “Reduced Functionality Mode” which permits only minimal use of Windows Vista until the product is activated.
Microsoft hasn’t revealed all the technical details of the activation system—although a white paper is available—but the company has repeatedly stated that failure to activate Windows Vista will not shut down user’s computers. However, several limitations will be imposed on non-activated Vista installations:
- All features specific to Windows Vista’s Premium and Ultimate Editions will be disabled.
- Internet browsing will operate for about an hour before the session is interrupted.
- Installed applications, such as Microsoft Office, will be disabled.
- Downloads and software updates will not be available, with the exception of security updates marked as “critical.”
- The enhanced Vista interface “Aero” will be disabled.
Windows Vista will also monitor the status of the user’s activation key even after Windows Vista has been successfully activated. If, for any reason, the system decides the installation is no longer valid, users will be granted another 30 days to verify their installation. However, if the user fails to re-activate Vista, the system will not be thrown into the “read-only” lockdown above; instead, Windows Genuine Advantage will disable Aero, ReadyBoost, and Windows Defender, and display a persistent onscreen notice that the installed version of Vista is not “genuine.” Circumstances which might cause an activation key to be deemed invalid might include attempts to activate Windows Vista functionality via Windows Anytime Upgrade which aren’t part of a user’s installation, or moving the Vista installation to new systems or networking hardware.
Microsoft’s restrictions on Windows Vista installations are intended to present a hurdle to both casual and organized software pirates and counterfeiters; although the company does not expect these new technologies to eliminate piracy, they hope to make pirating Windows increasingly less convenient than purchasing a legitimate copy. What remains to be seen is to what degree these technologies—and any new “gotchas” they introduce—might impact legitimate users.