What Microsoft still isn't saying about WGA and Volume Activation 2.0

What are some of the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) and Volume Activation 2.0 aspects that are not common knowledge – but about which Microsoft watchers still might want to know? Here’s my short list.

Microsoft lifted the veil – sort of – about its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) and Volume Activation 2.0 plans for Windows Vista and Longhorn Server on October 4.

I say “sort of” because Microsoft is providing publicly little more than bare-bones details about these technologies and how they’ll figure in its next-generation products.

We already knew that Microsoft intended to embed WGA throughout Vista. Company officials told users and partners this earlier this year. But now we know how. If your copy of Vista does not pass Microsoft’s anti-piracy sniff test, you won’t be able to use the Aero user interface, Windows Defender anti-spyware and ReadyBoost memory-expanding technologies that will be built into the premium versions of Vista. (Will other Vista elements, like Vista Ultimate Extras, get the WGA lock-down? The Softies had no comment when I asked.)

On the Volume Activation 2.0 front, Microsoft is going to step-up its anti-piracy authentication requirements for businesses with Vista and Longhorn Server, as some testers have said. Businesses running Windows Vista Business, Vista Enterprise and the Longhorn Server SKUs (due out in the latter part of 2007) will be required to track product-license keys via two schemes: 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. Again, we knew that much already.

There are also some WGA and Volume Activation 2.0 myths that Microsoft is out to debunk, officials said. If a Vista machine doesn’t pass WGA or Volume Activation 2.0 muster, Microsoft cannot and will not “shut it off,” officials said. (If you fail to activate Vista in 30 days, however, it sounds like your Internet access is shut down after an hour. Sure sounds like a "kill" switch by any other name.) Additionally, Volume Activation has no links to billing, the Softies say. If you install 4,000 Vista clients and pay for 3,000 under Volume Licensing 2.0, Microsoft won’t be sending you a bill for the missing 1,000 product keys, officials insisted.

With those caveats, what are some of the WGA and Volume Activation 2.0 aspects that are not common knowledge – but about which Microsoft watchers still might want to know? Here’s my short list:

Q: Microsoft is describing WGA and Volume Activation 2.0 as part of its “Software Protection Platform.” What else is in this grab bag?

A: The Software Protection Platform, according to a Microsoft Volume Activation 2.0 FAQ that I saw recently, includes the following: “An Activation Service, client services and API that ship in Vista, and tools and technologies designed to better protect software through stronger security measures.” What kinds of code-protection technologies are we talking? “Code protection technologies such as tamper resistance, code obfuscation, and anti-reverse engineering measures have been considerably strengthened for Vista. The SP Platform has enabled Vista to improve software security, including new product activation technologies and policies for Retail, Volume, and OEM customers.”

(They’re talking about Windows Anytime Upgrade here – which is Microsoft’s plan to allow users to upgrade pricier Vista SKUs, using a combination of a disc and an online activation code.)

Q: Which versions of Windows are going to include Volume Licensing support?

A: According to the Microsoft Volume Activation 2.0 FAQ, the following versions will be Volume Activation 2.0-ready:

* Vista Business

* Vista Business N (the EU version without Media Player)

* Vista Business K (the Korean version with links to third-party products)

* Vista Business KN (the Korean version without Media Player and Messenger)

* Vista Enterprise

* Vista Enterprise K (the Korean version with links to third-party products)

* Longhorn Server Itanium Edition

* Longhorn Server Web

* Longhorn Server Computer Cluster

* Windows Midmarket Server (MAK only) 

* Windows Midmarket Server Premium (MAK only) 

* Longhorn Server Standard/Standard Core

* Longhorn Server Enterprise/Enterprise Core

* Longhorn Server Datacenter/Datacenter Core

Q: There are rumblings that Microsoft intends to back-port Volume Activation 2.0 to Windows Server 2003. Is there any truth to that?

A: There will be a Key Management Service (KMS) that will be available for Windows Server 2003, acknowledged Thomas Lindeman, senior product manager for Microsoft’s Software Protection Platform. Expect it in the spring of 2007, he said. Because KMS is a server-driven service, Microsoft is adding Windows Server to its list of covered platforms so companies who don’t have Vista or Longhorn Server servers can make use of it.

Q: We know Microsoft is going to lock down Vista and Longhorn Server. What other products are going to be “protected” by the Software Protection Platform?

A: “All Microsoft products will eventually use the Software Protection Platform,” said Cori Hartje, director of Microsoft’s Genuine Software Initiative. Flight Simulator X, which went gold in mid-September, includes WGA elements. Expect future versions of SQL Server and Exchange Server to be among the next products to require Volume Activation 2.0, Hartje said.

Q: Microsoft also is claiming that some third-party-developed products are going to become part of the WGA/Volume Activation 2.0 fold. Which ones and when?

A: Hartje said Microsoft had nothing to say about its plans to extend its Software Protection Platform to non-Microsoft products. But were’s what the Volume Activation 2.0 FAQ had to say:

“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.”

Q: Testers I’ve talked to are not too thrilled about the systems-management headaches they believe will result from Volume Activation 2.0. They just see it as yet another service they’re going to have to administer. What’s Microsoft’s response?

A: Microsoft is readying a bunch of new Volume Activation 2.0 deployment guides, Hartje said, as well as new management tools designed to help admins keep better track of their volume-license keys. Among the new tools are a forthcoming Microsoft Operations Manager pack and add-ons to Systems Management Server, officials said.

What else do you want to know about Microsoft’s Vista WGA and Volume Activation 2.0 plans for Vista and beyond? 


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