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Ability to Bypass Vista Activation Is Not as Big a Deal as It Seems

March 20, 2007

Brian Livingston has done a nice job of documenting some really interesting ways to postpone having to activate Windows Vista for about a year.

Based on the facts in the article, this process only permits activation free use for about one year. (This is contradicted by some unsubstantiated assertions and speculation in the article and many headlines to the contrary, but as I write the results of the experiments in the article seem pretty clear.) The probable explanation for this behavior suggested in the article also seems to hit the nail on the head: Microsoft wanted to ease corporate licensees’ transition to a system in which, unlike with XP, each copy of Windows at site requires its own product key.

Where I differ from the articles conclusions and those of other commentators around the net is in the analysis of whether this really permits widespread piracy of Vista. I think it probably does not, or at least is likely to have little effect on Microsoft’s bottom line. Here’s why:

  • Postponing activation is relatively inconvenient and error (even which a script or other automation of the process) renders the OS neutered.
  • Even an alert and savvy use does not appear to be able to postpone activation indefinitely. That means that anyone who wants to avoid EVER paying for Vista will need to wipe their C partition and reinstall from scratch. This would be really inconvenient and probably not worth the effort for any but an insignificant few, when OEM versions of Vista can probably be had for around $100.
  • People can pirate XP relatively easily now, so we reduce the group this approach might appeal to even further to those who have a good enough reason to want Vista instead of XP.
  • The likely result in each case is that those who have such a system will ultimately pay for a copy of Vista either by buying a new PC or by buying a product key from MS to activate their unactivated version when their version of Vista stops working.

Given the last bullet point, all MS is really losing is: licensing fees from the few for whom this is worth the trouble; and the time value of licensing fees from some others who delay activation for a long time before finally entering a valid product key.

I think those losses are probably outweighed by the advantage of having a more people get a free, extended look at their new OS. Or I could be wrong and this could just be a massive screw up by Microsoft… but I don’t think so.


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