Microsoft to ease XP activation with SP3

Will give new installs 30 days to enter product key, as does Vista

Microsoft Corp. will change how users activate Windows XP when Service Pack 3 launches in the first half of 2008, a company white paper said.

New installations of Windows XP SP3 will give users the same 30-day grace period currently offered to Windows Vista customers before they're required to enter a product activation key, the 25-character code that proves the copy is legitimate.

"As in Windows Server 2003 SP2 and Windows Vista, users can now complete operating system installation without providing a product key during a full, integrated installation of Windows XP SP3," the Microsoft paper stated. "The operating system will prompt the user for a product key later as part of Genuine Advantage."

With earlier editions of Windows XP, users must enter the activation key during the installation process itself; failing to do so, or using an invalid key, would result in the installation being blocked.

The white paper, however, noted that the change does not apply to existing Windows XP installations upgraded to SP3. Those copies, which have presumably passed the activation stage previously, will not request the key again, Microsoft said.

Blogger Ed Bott of ZDNet, who created a "slip-streamed" Windows XP SP3 installation CD from the release candidate issued 10 days ago to simulate a fresh installation, noted that after the 30-day grace period expired, Windows masked the log-on screen with a message demanding a valid activation key.

"If you click No, you're returned to the log-on screen," said Bott. "Click Yes and you go to a desktop where your only option is to enter a product key. If you click Remind Me Later in that box, you'll also be sent back to the log-on screen."

The change is the second this month that Microsoft has made to its product activation and anticounterfeit technology, collectively dubbed "Windows Genuine Advantage." In early December, for example, the company softened its stance on Windows Vista and Windows Server by promising to kill the "kill switch," and stop turning off features or restricting access to files when a copy fails validation.

Microsoft has eliminated what it called "reduced functionality mode" in both Vista SP1's final form, which will be available in early 2008, and Windows Server 2008 Release Candidate 1 (RC1). Rather than disable some features (as Vista did) or block most applications (as Windows Server did), the new editions simply post more persistent notices to nag users into upgrading to a valid, licensed copy.

Other than to hint that Windows XP users will see no changes to activation after upgrading their existing copies to SP3 next year, a Microsoft spokeswoman was unable to answer several questions about the modifications, including queries about whether the 30-day grace period will be able to be extended, as is Windows Vista's, and what prompted the new process.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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