To Microsoft's Soho HQ, where yours truly and a selection of other IT hacks are led into a seminar room cunningly disguised as a swimming pool, with tables made of white pebbles embedded in clear resin and thus irresistibly reminiscent of giant rice cakes. This surreal environment proves perfect for two hours of lectures and Q&A on the sticky subject of Microsoft Product Activation.
We are treated to two main thrusts: piracy is naughty, but lots of people do it; MPA is benign and won't hurt anyone who's good. You can't blame Microsoft for wanting to stop people making illegal copies of its software, but it was curious that the main reason behind MPA -- increased revenues -- wasn't mentioned once. We did get another answer to the standard question that if it works, why isn't software cheaper: it's because Microsoft wants to spend more on research and development to make our experience even better. They didn't explain why, if they've spent four years developing product activation, they haven't got around to any way that you can tell them you've de-installed your product from a machine so you can move it to another. Perhaps in a future version, they said.
However, some good news: if you buy your Windows XP preinstalled, then you can do what you like to your PC short of changing the BIOS and you won't have to re-activate. And if you wait 120 days from activation, you can reactivate without any questions.
The worrying thing about MPA isn't whether it'll stop us using our computers -- it won't, by and large -- but what Microsoft will do with the technology next. The most frightening thing at the press briefing, though, wasn't anything to do with product activation. It was the PR from Microsoft who talked about the Business Software Alliance. It soon became apparent that she considered the BSA to be just another branch of Microsoft -- you have been warned.
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