Vista Hands On #8: Delay activation

Vista Hands On #8: Delay activation

Summary: Every copy of Windows Vista requires activation, and the default settings will do it automatically three days after you complete Setup. If you're not ready to make that commitment, here's how to disable automatic activation and use Vista risk-free for its full evaluation period.

TOPICS: Windows

Microsoft doesn't get enough credit for one major change in Windows Vista. Using the standard Setup program and installation media, you can install an evaluation copy of any Vista edition and use it for a minimum of 30 days, with the option to "rearm" that trial period up to three times, for a total evaluation period of 120 days.

(For more details on the "rearm" technique, see Vista Hands On #9: Use Vista for four months, free")

In essence, this makes Windows Vista the ultimate shareware program. You don't need to enter a product key, and you can beg, borrow, or copy the media. When you're done, you'll have a fully functioning evaluation copy that is not limited or crippled in any way during the trial period.

Even if you choose to enter your product key during the initial installation, I recommend against activating Windows Vista immediately. Take advantage of that 30 day trial period to shake out any compatibility issues, and don't activate until you're satisfied that everything is working properly.

Taking advantage of this trial period means avoiding the big gotcha of automatic activation. During installation, on the screen where you enter your product key, the Setup program configures your system to activate automatically in three days. To change this default setting, clear the checkbox shown here.

What if you slide by this setting during Setup and forget to change it? Disabling automatic activation requires a Registry edit. (As always, the standard disclaimers apply: Don't try this unless you understand the consequences. Editing the Registry incorrectly can screw up your system; if it happens to you, I'm not responsible.)

Open Registry Editor and select the key HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\SL\Activation. In the right-hand pane, double-click the Manual value and change it from 0 to 1.

Restart Welcome Center. In the Windows Activation section at the bottom, you'll no longer see a notice that Windows will automatically activate itself. Instead, you'll see how many days are left in the current evaluation period.

Topic: Windows

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  • What about Installing Windows Updates?

    Great, but can you still download Windows Updates and apply them without activating Windows? This has been a real problem with XP-based activation periods.

    • Yes, all updates are available

      This is a huge improvement over XP, where an unactivated copy was basically not allowed to download any drivers. As I wrote in this post, an evaluation copy of Vista is not limited in any way (except the expiration date, of course). You can download any and all drivers, including updated hardware drivers, from Windows Update.
      Ed Bott
      • Slight correction

        I wrote: "huge improvement over XP, where an unactivated copy was basically not allowed to download any drivers."

        That should be "huge improvement over XP, where an unactivated copy was basically not allowed to download any UPDATES, including drivers, except for Critical Updates delivered via Automatic Updates."
        Ed Bott
  • More FUD from Bott...

    I tell everyone to activate as soon as possible. My rep gave me a special hotline where I can activate BEFORE I even install. This way from Day 1 I am running the full Vista eXPerience and enjoy all that it delivers. The "Pearl" is the future of functionality, and knowing I have an activated copy of this fine piece of architecture makes me feel even better about the choice I made to go Microsoft all the way. My rep and I spent yesterday discussing an even more aggressive activation strategy. My rep mentioned something about tying Windows product IDs to a driver's license and credit card. So that if someone were to illegally transfer Vista to another PC they bought, their charge card would be hit for a license and the DMV would be notified.
    Mike Cox
    • 7.5 I like it when you put them on notice.

      Might as well punish the real drivers along with the device ones.

    • Why not a fingerprint reader?

      How about a fingerprint reader where you have to keep your finger on it THE ENTIRE TIME YOU USE THE COMPUTER? You move it, even for a second, and boom! You're deactivated.

      You really need to think bigger, sir.
      Ed Bott
      • Alternatively...

        [i]"How about a fingerprint reader where you have to keep your finger on it THE ENTIRE TIME YOU USE THE COMPUTER?"[/i]

        ... why not upgrade to the new Microsoft Vista Enhanced keyboard where the fingerprint reader is built in to the <ENTER> key?

        Every new line verifies your identity and allows Vista to determine if you should be signed up for the online "Mavis Beacon's Typing Tutor" based on your keying rate.
    • If they had to include a graphic of their signature...

      ... would that make them a "signed driver"? Would they get a "Vista Compatible" sticker for their car?

      I think we should be told!
    • How about a loyalty chip

      Get a special rfid chip in your forehead or the palm of your hand that forever seals you as a loyal Microsoft Minion. Any time you access any MS product a suitable fee would be deducted electronically from your one world currency bank account.
    • Rediculous

      Give them your birtdate and your moms maiden name and you may just become one of the 10 million identity thefts every year. It's just a software license. Why would you give them personal information? Did you even read the EULA when you agreed to it?
      • And another one goes...

  • Doesn't this make Vista freeware?

    Don't you mean freeware? Is there anything (apart from conscience) stopping a person:

    1. Installing (not activating) and re-arming thereby getting their 120 days
    2. Backing up their work files;
    3. At the end of 120 days using a Linux bootable CD to format the disk (fat32 or even ex2fs)
    4. Reload the Vista drive and starting at the first step?

    Seems like a big oversight for Microsoft. I'm sure this will be patched.

    The Banjo
    • I don't think so

      In fact, this seems to me like a totally sensible response to the hardcore pirate. "Here," says Microsoft. "Just use this eval copy. Don't mess with timer locks and phony keys. We'll make it easy enough that you don't need that crap. You're going to reformat your system every few months anyway, so why not do this?"
      Ed Bott
      • So what it sounds like to me

        based on your post I am replying too, is that screw the mom and pops with WGA but allow the people they are trying to stop in the first place an easy out? I mean that is how I read your statement above... correct me if I am wrong. ]:)
        Linux User 147560
        • No, not at all

          WGA is most effective at stopping system builders and lasy repair technicians who are victimizing mom and pop by preloading bogus copies.
          Ed Bott
      • Got to say I agree with you...

        The Banjo
      • Seems like it's free to me.

        I was thinking about this the other day and you have seemed to confirm it. I have purchased Vista Ultimate and I like it for the most part. But I want to put it on my second laptop that I use at work for testing software. If I wanted to, I believe I could install Vista from my DVD that I bought, enter the product key of course, and then use the 120 days of free trial. Formatting every 4 months isn't a big deal as it would not be my primary OS on that computer. The longer you do this the more pain in the butt it will become due to an increasing # of WindowsUpdates, but, still, not too bad.

        The only thing that I still question is if MS is grabbing that product key before activation and noting that it was installed on a second machine. Or maybe every machine dials home or at least when it updates it dials home and says "Hey, This is me, This is my config." Whether they do something about it or not, who knows but it wouldn't surprise me. Then again, I don't know what the legal ramifications of this would be for them. Perhaps that is downright illegal. But I wouldn't rule out the possibility that they know it is installed (assuming you use the internet) and active on multiple machines, regardless of activation. Maybe I'm just a skeptic. Regardless, I can't hate them for doing something like that if they do indeed try that, it's just a little unsettling.

        There are probably loopholes in this idea, but I would have liked to see Vista sold as a license at increasingly cheaper prices. One Ultimate is $400. Two Ultimates are $250 each. Three would be $200 each.. so that the home user who is furnishing multiple copies to multiple computers, something that is not too unheard of these days, is not shelling out 2 months rent to do it. Using this method, you would have to make customized DVDs, (I believe right now every single DVD is identical) but if you could make them custom for eahc base license. Each additional license would have to be installed from that specific DVD. The more I think about this there are problems with that, but, it seems like a good start. Who knows. Anyone know of any forums or whitepapers discussing this? I am interested to know their reasons for doing the things they did.

        • No product key necessary

          "The only thing that I still question is if MS is grabbing that product key before activation and noting that it was installed on a second machine."

          This technique works if you install Vista without entering a product key. Even if you enter a key, though, nothing gets sent to the activation servers at Microsoft without your knowledge or consent.

          Oh, and there is a discount program like the one you describe. If you get Vista Ultimate, you can get two upgrade licenses for Home Premium for $50 each. It's not a bad deal.
          Ed Bott
          • How interesting.

            I had a feeling I would eat me words there after I submitted that. Not great for business, but good for home users who are probably not running a domain controller nor media centers on all computers.

            Thanks for the tip!

    • Techincally, yes.

      Well it is!

      Reloading Vista is too easy, and probably the only way to get it completely free now.

      And patch? What patch? Microsoft seems to always fudge any patch it creates, so I think you'll find some hacker will be able to find a workaround. Or at least create one... to say the least.

      I'm certainly surprised the activation timerstop crack hasn't been patched yet... It's certainly been around for a fair while.
      Justin Carmichael