Volume Activation 2.0: Another Potential Vista Gotcha?

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.

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?

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