Product Activation

Chances are if your organization has purchased a copy of Microsoft Office 2000 or Office XP, you have already run into Microsoft's new feature, product activation. This technology was introduced midway through the release of Office 2000, and will be incorporated into all future Microsoft products. Microsoft will also make the technology available to other developers as part of Windows XP.

The point of product activation is to reduce or eliminate losses from software theft by unscrupulous companies and individuals (for background information please see our previous article, "Who Owns The Software?"). Developers estimate they lose billions of dollars every year from people who illegally copy software.

Microsoft's solution is to require each installation of their software to be activated by a special code. For software purchased at a retail store and activated using the Internet, this process takes a snapshot of the
hardware in the user's computer. If a certain number of hardware changes are detected the user must contact Microsoft and try to obtain a new activation key. The idea is to prevent users from installing one copy of the software on multiple PCs. Users who register their software over the phone with Mictosoft must manually enter the activation key, which is even longer than the 25-character installation key.

Microsoft limits users to only two reinstallations before they will refuse to provide additional activation keys. Presumably then the user must buy another copy of the software. Critics say this will make administration tougher for companies that want to move software from one PC to another, for example when PCs are replaced.

October 2001

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