Volume Activation 2.0: Another Potential Vista Gotcha?

Volume Activation 2.0: Another Potential Vista Gotcha?

Summary: Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) isn’t the only Microsoft anti-piracy scheme that might raise the hackles of future Vista customers. Volume Activation 2.0 is worrying some Vista testers who’ve had a chance to dabble with early versions of that technology.

TOPICS: Windows

Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) isn’t the only Microsoft anti-piracy scheme that might raise the hackles of future Vista customers. Volume Activation 2.0 is worrying some Vista testers who’ve had a chance to dabble with early versions of that technology.

Potential false positives – Microsoft labeling legitimate copies of Windows as “pirated” -- akin to those which have been documented in WGA by Windows expert Ed Bott and others, are just one problem business users are anticipating with Volume Activation 2.0. Increased costs resulting from the management of Volume Activation systems is another, they say.

For those who’ve yet to hear about it, Volume Activation is a new digital-license activation technology aimed at businesses. It’s part of the larger “Software Protection Platform” that Microsoft is constructing to combat piracy.

In short, Microsoft is not going to allow enterprises to operate on an honor system, when it comes to proving how many copies of Windows they’ve paid to license. Just like it does with individual Windows users, Microsoft is going to start requiring companies to authenticate their new versions of Windows within 30 days of installing.

Microsoft is planning to incorporate Volume Activation 2.0 into Windows Vista Enteprise, Windows Vista Business and Longhorn Server. Microsoft is not planning to bake Volume Activation into Vista Ultimate – even though some customers will be using that product in a business setting.

Microsoft is planning to offer customers a choice of two kinds of volume-license key services: Multiple Activation Keys (MAK), which are aimed at smaller organizations and/or isolated machines; and on-premise volume license key-management service (KMS) for networked environments with 25 or more machines, according to an FAQ about Volume Activation 2.0 that I had a chance to check out.

“Volume Activation 2.0 will provide system administrators the ability to centrally manage and protect product keys,” according to the FAQ. “Looking forward, it (Volume Activation 2.0) will provide the basis for an easy-to-use, comprehensive, integrated activation process that will support both Microsoft's and third-party applications. It is also the starting point for a strong software asset management system that will increasingly offer substantial, measurable benefits to customers.”

Some customers who’ve been testing Volume Activation 2.0 haven’t seen anything they’d quantify as “substantial, measurable benefits,” however.

“I think the real story here is the fact that Microsoft is putting a burden on their customers without offering any 'value add' features in return. No license management features, nothing. Just more work, and no payback. That is wrong,” said one tester, who requested anonymity.

"As I work for a company that deals with Volume licensing exclusively, … this is not going to go over well,” said another user, posting to ActiveWin.com. “I can see it now, you purchase the license, have to go here, have to activate it here, then install and activate it. But the vendor hasn't updated MS yet, so it doesn't show your agreement, then the install reports your install isn't legit and knocks you out.. GREAT.. Nice especially if you have to reinstall to get a critical server back up, etc.”

When asked last week for comment on Volume Activation 2.0, Microsoft Vista Business Unit General Manager Brad Goldberg said the company would be discussing more details about it soon. Vista’s Volume Activation technology will provide “a couple of ways to manage volume-license keys,” Goldberg confirmed, “but was not designed to drive down (total cost of ownership) costs.”

According to the aforementioned FAQ on Volume Activation 2.0, the benefits of the new system, which Microsoft plans to publicize, are:

• Integrity and security of the software and the VL keys

• Compliance and software asset management efforts are easier

• Tighter control of the machines in the environment

“There is some TCO impact depending on the specific deployment choices,” the FAQ acknowledges. “However, prescriptive guidance and tools are provided to minimize the impact.” A

Any Vista or Longhorn Server testers out putting Volume Activation 2.0 through its paces? What’s your take on the new licensing technology?

Topic: Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Amazing

    I'm continually amazed that businesses would continue to put up more and more abuse when there are better alternatives which cost less. It's just plain stupidity.
    Tim Patterson
    • What 'abuse' are you talking about?

      I can't fire up Photoshop or QuarkXPress or any other production software where I work without having to authenticate it.
      Sure I can turn my Mac/PC on, but to get anything done, I already have to go through these hoops. It is standard fare for any software company that has been ripped off for years.

      If it is done correctly, it shouldn't cause the slightest issue. How easy it is remains to be seen.
      • It isn't the same

        I have the same problem with Dreamweaver. Having to authenticate it drives me nuts. The reason was we had an employee move Dreamweaver to his personal laptop before he left. This means we couldn't reinstall it. Called Macromedia/Adobe up and they said that was illegal. Duh, I knew that. They told me I would have to get the ex-employee to unauthenticate to reinstall. I asked them how did they think I was supposed to do that? He left on very bad terms. He didn't take the CD's or the license key with him just the software installed on his personal laptop. Sorry, but our Police wouldn't do anything about it since "no theft occurred". We are out 1 license with NO recourse (at least not one that would be less expensive than buying a new license) to get it back.

        This only had an effect on 1 program and 1 license. The computer is still usable and all other software on that computer is usable.

        What happens if something goes wrong and locks you out of the OS completely? Something going wrong with an OS is magnitudes worse than with a single application.

        PS I asked Macromedia/Adobe if they were going to send the BSA after the ex-employee. That never happened.
        • That is the whole

          'how it is handled' part of it. Locking someone out of the OS on a false positive would be unacceptable. I think MS will go a different route. I don't believe WGA disables the machine, does it? Just nags you to death.

          Also, the "especially if you have to reinstall to get a critical server back up" is simply a stupid argument; you have 30 days to activate after install. If you can get it right in 30 days, you should be fired...
          • It does lock you out

            From what I understand if you don't sign up your copy of windows during the frist 30 days after you can no longer long in.
            Randall Lind
          • Conformation anyone?

            'from what I understand' is FUD at worse, nothing at best. Anyone know from experience?
            I was working on a machine with a copy of XP Pro SP2 that used non-legit Volume keys, and it did nothing but complain. And complain, and complain. It still worked though.
          • Different software

            Your talking about a XP not Vista. And you also talking volume licensing not Product Activation.

            Vista is supposed to bring Product Activation to Volume licensing.

            Now I've seen what Activation does. You activate and if it successful everything works. If it fails you are locked out. Now have this applied to volume licensing. It's hassle for the home user and now it will be a hassle time the number of seats you have in the enterprise. This basically increases the TCO of running Vista. Not a good sign if you ask me.

            So what happens to imaging? I suppose the imaging software will have to take this into account.

            The potential for screw ups here is HUGE.
        • And then there are the hard ware issuse

          what happens when the hard drive of a vista machine goes belly up, and you can't unauthenticate. Are you just plain out 1 license? And just how is a company supposed to prove to Microsoft that this hard drive that is **D**E**A**D** actually had Vista on it? Does the company have to pay for the data recovery? Does Microsoft? It would be cheaper just to pony up the cash for another license. I'm laughing over here because crying just doesn't do any good what so ever!
      • I'm willing to bet you don't have 50,000 copies of Quark installed...

        • Time to hire more help.

          Time to hire more help.
      • What 'abuse' are you talking about?

        Well said. It's about time they plugged the license leaks in the Academic and Corporate Sectors. Everybody, rides for the same fare.
    • Boil the frog slowly

      [i]I'm continually amazed that businesses would continue to put up more and more abuse when there are better alternatives which cost less.[/i]

      No there aren't -- have a look at the RFPs and you'll see. All of those others are, by definition, not "alternatives."
      Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Message has been deleted.

      • Shhhh....

        Don't say that too loudly...he's gonna know that you know...and then you might disappear in the night. What? You don't think he'd care enough about a "small fry" like you?
  • Microsoft continues to PUSH AWAY loyal paying customers away

    Volume Activation 2.0 is car wreck waiting to happen again and again and again where Microsoft is continuing to PUSH AWAY loyal paying customers whether they be business customers or home users who are thinking of upgrading from XP to VISTA. Volume Activation 2.0 is yet another nail that Microsoft is hammering in its self-inflected suicidal maniac scheme to try to protect itself when such attempts are really going to cause Microsoft to lose more customers. Microsoft will spin this nonsense as needed welcome genuine security value-added features when really these idiotic features will cause nothing but obstruction and frustration to innocent users who only want to get some real work done without having to do the confusing geeky things that Microsoft is forcing them to do.
    • Lot's of theft going on

      Lot's of theft going on in Academics and Corporations. Plugging these leaks will increase sales in a stagnant market. So which OS is out there that is "not" a step back? Besides, fair is fair, you use it you should pay for it.
      • Life is not fair

        fair is merely a word. It's a device by which we incense, or molify ourselve when comparing our lot to someone elses.
        Hrothgar - PCLinuxOS User
  • More worries than piracy

    This activation stuff is specious. The real pirates will find a away around it, and the average person will get screwed. I have clients getting false positives from known good copies of XP - they were bought from big-name retailers - and the only recourse is to buy a new key. They are furious. I have had two clients ask me to start looking at how they can switch all or most of their business to Linux. They aren't worried about pirated copies because they buy legally. They worry about false positives, they don't know how much more draconian MS is going to get if they think a copy is pirated, they don't trust MS intentions since they force WGA and then phoned home without them knowing it and the firewall passed it through with no warning. They also worry about what is going to happen when MS decides to stop supporting XP. Are they going to release a patch that removes the need for activation? They don't think so. Some companies still have a lot of Windows 98 machines. What if 98 forced activation and MS doesn't support it anymore?

    Plus, when machines are upgraded with new HDD, memory, etc. and it forces a new activation it is very annoying.
    • Apple offers low cost "family licenses"

      Apple offers low-cost Mac OS X licenses for 5 users for, I believe, $200.

      OS X works better than any M$ product, too. Anyone that gives M$ $400 for this new abortion is a dope.....
      • As Another Poster In Another Thread Said...

        Apple sells you the hardware and GIVES you OSX. Why would you need a 2nd or 3rd license, anyway, if you've already bought the hardware? Update an older machine? How much older?