Microsoft to relax XP activation rules with SP3

Microsoft to relax XP activation rules with SP3

Summary: A recent Microsoft whitepaper downplays the changes in Windows XP SP3. But a closer look at that document reveals that Microsoft is about to make a significant change to its activation policy for XP. Beginning with SP3, you'll be able to install XP and use it for 30 days without entering a product key.


17-Dec 9:00AM PST: Post updated with more details about behavior after grace period expires. 

Last week Microsoft released a whitepaper outlining the changes in Windows XP Service Pack 3, which was just released for MSDN and TechNet subscribers and should be ready for final release in the first half of 2008. The introduction is low-key:

Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) includes all previously released updates for the operating system. This update also includes a small number of new functionalities, which do not significantly change customers’ experience with the operating system. This white paper summarizes what is new in Windows XP SP3.

Sounds innocuous enough, right?

But the very last item in the "New and Enhanced Functionality" section, buried in a box on page 9 of the 11-page PDF document, represents a pretty dramatic change:

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 operating system will prompt the user for a product key later as part of Genuine Advantage. As with previous service packs, no product key is requested or required when installing Windows XP SP3 using the update package available through Microsoft Update.

This change allows you to install Windows XP with Service Pack 3 on any PC without entering a product key and use it in trial mode until the 30-day activation grace period expires. That's the same way that Windows Vista and Windows Server 2003 now work. After the 30 days are up, you'll have to enter a valid product key and activate the system before you can log on (see the end of this post for more details). put up with some nagging, but you should be able to continue using the system. By contrast, you can't even complete an installation of current XP builds (SP2 and earlier) without entering a product key that at least looks valid.

The biggest caveat is that this change requires XP installation media that incorporate a "slipstreamed" copy of SP3. The MSDN downloads directory contains only a standalone updater (in .exe format) for the SP3 RC. Fortunately, the well-publicized hacks widely used to create slipstreamed XP SP2 media work just as well for SP3.

I've just made one of those slipstream disks and used it to install a clean copy of Windows XP Professional. During the portion of setup where I normally am asked to enter a product key, I see this dialog box instead:


A closer look reveals that the text reflects the same wording as that found in its Vista counterpart, with the product key listed as "optional." I've highlighted the relevant text below:

New wording in the Windows XP SP3 dialog box confirms that entering a product key is now optional during setup.

And sure enough, when I left the box blank and continued with Setup, I was given this one final warning:

If you choose not to enter a product key, you can use XP for 30 days without activating it

Once you're past that, it's (relatively) smooth sailing. At first boot, a taskbar notification reminded me I had 30 days to activate Windows. Ignoring the message allowed me to continue.

Combine this news with the recent announcement of major changes to activation and validation in Vista's forthcoming SP1, and it appears that Microsoft has decided to dial back on WGA across the board. I'll monitor this installation over the next 30 days and see what happens as the end of the grace period approaches.

Update: I simulated the expiration of the 30-day grace period by resetting the clock on my test system and diabling Internet time sync. At the end of the grace period, the Welcome screen displays this dialog box over the list of user names:

YouÂ’re forced to activate XP SP3 when the grace period expires

If you click No, you're returned to to the logon screen. 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 logon screen. And unlike Windows Vista, there's apparently no rearm option to extend the grace period by an additional 30 days.

It's worth noting that this option applies only to systems that have never been activated. After the initial activation completes, any WGA failure results in notifications, without affecting the ability to log on or use the system.

Topics: Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • Too little too late

    And how long will it last?

    Microsoft will dial it back until the noise
    dies down, then back to the same old

    A leopard does not change his spots.
    Ole Man
    • Message has been deleted.

      • Ole Man Is Actually Informed, Not Confused

        Microsoft has demonstrated very consistent business strategies of flawed mis-validation, kill switches, restricted licensing, and stealth updates that are not less than contemptuous of their honest customers:

        Microsoft's changes in customer relations earned them a spot in a book on software industry business mistakes, aptly titled "In Search of Stupidity":

        Microsoft only very recently announced that the Vista kill switch would be removed from Vista SP1. Based on their track record over the past three years, Microsoft has abrogated any trustworthiness they used to have.
        • Thank you Cardhu

          Evidently I won't be allowed to respond to
          attempted insults in kind judging by the
          number of my posts that have been deleted

          Thanks for the links too. You can be sure
          the Micro-sheep won't read any of them, but
          they're a good source for anyone who wants
          to learn the truth instead of blindly
          following the leader.
          Ole Man
          • Message has been deleted.

          • These Forums Are Out Of Control

            and it's all because of a small but highly vocal minority cluttering these forums with personal insults and contentless distractions in clear violation of the forum rules.

            These people can be counted on just the fingers of one hand, but their comments are a chronic detraction undermining the credibility of these forums as a professional news source on the computer industry.

            Message deletions are ineffective. These people don't care if their messages get deleted so long as they have their moment of flame. The mere fact that their messages are deleted means their messages were read by at least one person who complained.

            What is needed in these forums is to identify these chronic offenders and temporarily or even permanently suspend accounts and block IPs.
          • Responding

            Old Troll:

            "Evidently I won't be allowed to respond to
            attempted insults in kind judging by the
            number of my posts that have been deleted

            Why? It's never stopped you before! ;)

            And whether you're willing to believe me or not, I didn't complain to the moderator about your posts.
            M.R. Kennedy
          • See What I Mean?

            Here's someone goading you now to stay down at the level of middleschool playground shouting matches.
          • Yes, I have already been around the block with this one

            Several times before.

            But I won't stoop that low again.

            Thanks for the heads up!

            Ole Man
    • Nor does an Apple

      fall far from the tree.

      TPM anyone?
      Oh yes; one please!

      Is OSX really that great?
      Oh yes, as you need not have to activate!

      At 129, the price is real swell,
      I can hardly wait to load it on my Dell!

      What do you mean that I must now buy your wares?
      I thought this would load just about anywhere.

      My Windows runs everywhere,last time I looked
      It even runs well on an Apple's own Macbook.
      • Great news!

        Apple sports a TPM chip on their
        motherboards, so that justifies Microsoft's
        arrogant antagonistic devious behavior.

        Ole Man
        • Message has been deleted.

          • Message has been deleted.

      • Let me get this straight:

        On the one hand, Apple sells software for THEIR computers, and doesn't require ANY
        activation or registration codes...

        the only thing that stops Mac Users from buying one copy of Leopard and installing it
        on a dozen or a hundred Macs is our sense of honor...

        On the other hand, Microsoft sells their software for any Intel-based computer, but
        they require Draconian measures to restrict the installation of that software on more
        than one PC...

        ... if you buy a PC with a Windows license on it, that license isn't portable.

        If that PC breaks down, you can't just transfer the license to another computer and
        continue to use it without the risk of litigation...

        Microsoft has a history of pursuing people who sell PC's with no OS installed,
        claiming they're just selling to people who will pirate Windows...

        ...and Microsoft even pushes "amnesty" licenses to people who have received
        donated, used PC's on the grounds they've got no legal right to run the copy of
        Windows installed...

        And you have the GALL to criticize Apple ?

        Only a complete MORON would try to buy OS X with the expectation to run it on a
        Dell !

        That's like buying a dress and complaining you didn't know you had to be female to
        wear it !

        OS X on PC's has never been offered, it's not like anyone could have false
        expectations !
        • uuuhhhmmmm....It was a joke, dude...

          Or maybe you think criticizing the Jobster isn't a joking matter?
          • Joke

            But... aren't jokes supposed to be funny?

            Are there new forms of jokes now that require lame remarks?

            I thought you were supposed to put "NOT !" at the end...
      • Common to all

        LaGrange, Presidio...
        In them all (, we
        trust ;-)
    • The Real Rub...

      WGA is already in SP3. Oh, I want that. Yeah. (What's the advantage again?)
    • The whole idea of WGA is morally offensive

      But people have been conditioned to accept it.

      And, no Apple's tying their OS to their hardware is not the same.
      • Define "moral"