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How to run Vista legally without activation ... for at least a year

Microsoft calls it a 'hack,' researcher, a 'documented feature'

March 15, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Windows Vista can be run for at least a year without being activated, a serious end run around one of Microsoft Corp.'s key antipiracy measures, Windows expert Brian Livingston said today.

Livingston, who publishes the Windows Secrets newsletter, said that a single change to Vista's registry lets users put off the operating system's product activation requirement an additional eight times beyond the three disclosed last month. With more research, said Livingston, it may even be possible to find a way to postpone activation indefinitely.

"The [activation] demands that Vista puts on corporate buyers is much more than on XP," said Livingston. "Vista developers have [apparently] programmed in back doors to get around time restrictions for Vista activation."

Microsoft promptly labeled the registry change a "hack," a loaded word that is usually synonymous with "illegal."

"Recently it has been reported that an activation hack for Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system has been identified," said David Lazar, the director of the company's Genuine Windows program, in an e-mail. "Although these reports are purely speculative at the moment, we are actively monitoring attempts to steal Microsoft intellectual property."

"This is not a hack," Livingston shot back when Lazar's e-mail was read to him. "This is a documented feature of the operating system." To back up his view, Livingston pointed out links to online support documents where Microsoft spells out the pertinent registry key. Nor is it speculative; Livingston demonstrated the procedure live via a Web conference session today and claimed "we have run this dozens of times."

Livingston last month revealed that a one-line command lets users postpone Vista activation up to three times. Combined with Vista's initial 30-day grace period, that meant users could run Vista for as long as 120 days before they had to activate the OS. At the time, Microsoft seemed unconcerned with the disclosure and flatly stated that using it would not violate the Vista End User License Agreement (EULA).

"The feature that I'm revealing today shows that Microsoft has built into Vista a function that allows anyone to extend the operating system's activation deadline not just three times, but many times," Livingston said.

Microsoft documented the key on its support site in a description of what it calls "SkipRearm". In it, Microsoft explains that "rearming a computer restores the Windows system to the original licensing state. All licensing and registry data related to activation is either removed or reset. Any grace period timers are reset as well."

By changing the SkipRearm key's value from the default "0" to "1," said Livingston, the earlier-revealed "slmgr -rearm" command can be used over and over.



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