COMMENTARY-- Hello from New York City, where the Marriott Marquis
theater will host tomorrow's formal introduction of Windows XP.
Amid tightened security--make sure you have two photo IDs--Microsoft
is doing its best to whip the media, especially the non-tech media,
into a Starbucks-quality foam.
And just in case Microsoft can't do it alone, they've hired
recording artist Sting to do a concert
on Thursday immediately following the XP introduction event.
THOUGH WINDOWS XP isn't even in stores yet--excepting
the hardware on which it's been preinstalled--it's already spawned
an urban legend or two. Urban legends are scary or cautionary
tales with some basis in fact upon which an elaborate fiction
Not surprisingly, Microsoft's Windows XP product activation--an
unpopular and controversial means of cracking down on casual
software piracy--is the basis for one of these legends, which
also draws on Microsoft's plan to sell software on a subscription
basis at some time in the future.
I generally receive this urban legend as a question: "Can
Microsoft 'turn off' my software? Will they disable Windows
XP when I'm ready to upgrade to something else?" Or as a bewildered
statement: "I've heard Windows XP expires at some point and
you'll force me to buy new software."
AS IT STANDS, Microsoft has ended support for some
older software. As a result, the user fear boils down to this:
If (and when) Microsoft decides to create the successor to XP,
they might either (1) turn off the XP I'm already using in an
effort to force me to upgrade, or (2) stop providing activation
codes to XP users, essentially rendering it unusable.
Microsoft says it's a baseless fear--they can't and won't
do the things described. But just as some urban legends are
hard to absolutely disprove, I guess we will never be sure about
this one until Microsoft is ready to phase out Windows XP, the
way it already has with Windows 3.x and Windows 95.
Since Microsoft's End-User License Agreement doesn't provide
for this, I can't imagine it happening. Still, I've gone to
Microsoft for the official word, here presented by Mark Croft,
a lead product manager on the XP team.
According to Croft, Windows Product Activation has a 30-day
grace period during which the user must activate that copy of
Windows. If the user hasn't activated by the 30th day, they'll
be able to boot their PC but won't be able to launch Windows
without first calling to activate their copy of the product.
If users activate XP prior to the 30th day, they may do so online
or via phone, said Croft.
"Also," said Croft, "there is no mechanism for Microsoft to
'reach out' and turn off (or otherwise change) user's Windows
installations. The activation period is simply a local counter
on the installed PC."
Here are some more activation-related questions, with answers
also provided by Microsoft's Croft.
I work in corporate IS. How does activation affect me?
Do I need a separate install disk for each computer?
"No. Beginning with a minimum of five PCs, corporate customers
may take advantage of Microsoft's volume licensing programs.
For these customers, Microsoft will provide a Volume License
Product Key that allows users to bypass product activation.
Customers can then use Microsoft's documented deployment tools,
such as Custom Installation Wizard (CIW) in Office XP and unattended
setup in Windows XP, to automate product key entry into network
and custom CD install images, so that end users are never prompted
to enter a product key during product installation."
I like to rebuild my computer occasionally--wipe the hard
drive and reinstall the OS. Will I have to call Microsoft for
an activation code each time?
"No. If the hardware remains the same, then Product Activation
will generate the same key that will map exactly to the existing
key held at the clearinghouse--so users can just use the Web-based
activation. No call required. Also, if the PC came with XP pre-installed
(via an OEM), then activation only inspects part of the BIOS--so
the user can wipe-and-load and change all the hardware (except
the BIOS) without needing to call.
"If the PC has been upgraded using retail media and hardware
gets changed, then the technical market bulletin located here
documents the hardware changes that may be made before triggering
the need to reactivate.
"To summarize, if the PC is not dockable and a network adapter
exists and is not changed, six or more of the 10 components
(see the link above for the 10 components) must be changed before
reactivation is required. If a network adapter existed but is
changed (or never existed at all), modifying four or more of
the 10 components will result in a need to reactivate.
"Microsoft has also recognized that certain users may wish
to change components frequently. As a result, Microsoft recently
implemented time-based reactivation. Every 120 days, the current
configuration of a user's PC will 'reset to zero,' so to speak.
Starting from that 120th day, users may swap out hardware components
as described above. After another 120 days passes, the PC 'sets
to zero' again, and users once again may swap out hardware components.
This time-based reactivation is designed to provide users with
greater flexibility to change their systems."
What happens if my hard drive fails and I need to reinstall
the OS? How much questioning will I have to undergo before you
let me activate again?
"No questioning should be involved, as no call should be required.
All you'll need is Web-based reactivation. The new hard drive
will mean the activation key has been modified, but it will
compare within tolerance with the existing key on the Clearinghouse.
Also, if a user does call, Microsoft will always err on the
side of the user. If you provide to the support representative
a simple explanation of why you need to reactivate, that should
suffice." (Back to you, David.)
Will Windows XP be compatible with my old software?
I am becoming concerned about Windows XP compatibility with
older applications, especially games and DOS apps. This is based
on some reader feedback I have received from people who find
that XP won't work with some of their more ancient--but still
While Microsoft has done lots of compatibility testing, if
you are dependent on some old apps, then I'd want to make sure
they really do run under XP before upgrading. And every upgrader
should download and run Microsoft's free Upgrade
Advisor before spending his or her money for an OS that
may still lack drivers for some hardware or not work with certain
apps--the Adaptec/Roxio Easy CD Creator is a prime example.