Microsoft says it has no plans to beef up its technical support resources ahead of the retail launch of Windows XP next month, even though the new operating system is the company's first consumer product to include a potentially complicated new activation technology.
The boxed version of Windows XP, to hit UK shops on 25 October, will let users upgrade their PCs from previous versions of Windows, such as Windows 98 or Windows Me, adding stability and basic improvements such as better memory management. But it also includes a more stringent security procedure called Windows Product Activation, which locks the operating system onto a particular hardware configuration.
If enough hardware components like memory, graphics card and processor are altered, the operating system will deactivate itself. Users then have to obtain a 44-key code from Microsoft to reactivate the operating system. Consumers have expressed concern that WPA could unexpectedly render their PCs useless at a time when it would be inconvenient to have to get a reactivation key.
Microsoft Windows product marketing manager Neil Laver said the company usually gets "a support spike" when a new OS is released, but added that Microsoft does not expect much technical support demand over the activation feature. "We are confident we will be able to meet our support needs," he said.
Laver said that the product activation feature in Office XP, launched earlier this year, has not led to a big increase in technical support demands, although Office XP is aimed at business rather than consumer users.
Some PC manufacturers disagree. "For end users that is going to be a nightmare," said Andre Afitsinski, technical manager at Elonex, speaking to ZDNet UK about WPA recently. Afitsinski said that customers who have problems with WPA are likely to phone the company they bought their PC from, rather than Microsoft, even if they originally bought the PC with an earlier version of Windows. "But if the problem is connected to reactivation we will forward them straight to Microsoft."
WPA is aimed at reducing piracy, but the thieves Microsoft is looking to crack down on are largely home users and small businesses, Laver said. Such users may have installed their copy of Windows on several PCs at home, without realising that the operating system license only applies to a single machine.
Laver said that in the UK, about 85 percent of small businesses use Microsoft software, but only 15 percent pay for it.
He would not put a figure on how much money Microsoft could recoup from small businesses via WPA, but said "it is a significant amount of money". "This will go a long way toward closing that gap," Laver said.
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