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XP SP3 downloaders get 30 days' grace

Users who install Windows XP Service Pack 3 will not be required to enter Microsoft's product activation key before they use the operating system, according to a Microsoft whitepaper.

Users who install Windows XP Service Pack 3 will not be required to enter Microsoft's product activation key before they use the operating system, according to a Microsoft whitepaper.

Instead they will get a 30-day period of grace -- the same as users of Windows Vista -- after which they will have to enter the key to prove that the product is genuine.

Problems can occur if a user legally obtains the software and, for some reason, a problem occurs with validation. By allowing a 30-day period, users have a chance to get the problem fixed while they are using the software.

Originally Microsoft had said that XP users would be forced to initially download the full product key -- Microsoft's method of checking that software has been properly licensed -- before they would be allowed to download Service Pack 3, due to be released in the first half of 2008.

"As in Windows Server 2003 SP2 and Windows Vista, users can now complete operating system installation without providing a product key during a full, integrated installation of Windows XP SP3," the software giant said in the whitepaper. "The operating system will prompt the user for a product key later as part of Genuine Advantage [Microsoft's mechanism for validation]. As with previous service packs, no product key is requested or required when installing Windows XP SP3 using the update package available through Microsoft Update."

The change will not affect users of Windows Vista. "Changes in Windows XP SP3 are not related to the Windows Vista Key Management Service (KMS)," the whitepaper added.

Most Microsoft software asks for a product key before installation. If the key is not valid, the user is unable to install the software.