Yes, there is an Office 2007 'kill switch'

Buried in a Knowledge Base article that Microsoft published to the Web on November 14 are details of Microsoft's plans to combat Office 2007 piracy via new Office Genuine Advantage lockdowns.

Buried in a Knowledge Base article that Microsoft published to the Web on November 14 are details of Microsoft’s plans to combat Office 2007 piracy via new Office Genuine Advantage lockdowns.

When asked last month whether Microsoft was planning to punish alleged Office 2007 pirates by crippling the functionality of their software in the same way that Microsoft is doing with Vista via reduced-functionality mode, Microsoft officials were noncommittal.

But now Microsoft’s intentions are clear: Just as it is doing with Vista, Microsoft plans to incorporate what basically amounts to a “kill switch” into Office 2007. Office 2007 users who can’t or won’t pass activation muster within a set time period will be moved into “reduced-functionality mode,” according to Microsoft’s Knowledge Base article.

“When a program runs in reduced-functionality mode, many commands are unavailable (dimmed). Therefore, you cannot access those functionalities,” the article explains. “Some of the limitations of reduced-functionality mode include the following:

• You cannot create new documents.

• You can view existing documents. However, you cannot edit them.

• You can print documents. However you cannot save them.”

In late October, Microsoft officials did acknowledge that its Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) program will become mandatory for Office 2007 users starting in January 2007. But when asked whether Microsoft was planning to make some kind of reduced-functionality mode – like what it plans to include in Vista – part of its forthcoming Office release, company officials avoided the question.

Ashim Jaidka, Lead Program Manager for Office Genuine Advantage, gave me the following statement on October 31: “Regarding your question about OGA eventually doing the same thing as WGA with regards to lock-downs into the product, Microsoft is absolutely committed to having Microsoft Office participate in the advantages of Microsoft’s overarching Genuine Software Initiative (GSI) from a long-term, broad perspective as part of upcoming releases, but (we) don’t have anything further to share regarding any plans for building lock-downs at this time.”

With Vista, retail customers have 30 days to activate successfully their copies of Vista before Microsoft disables access to the Aero user interface, ReadyBoost and Windows Defender.

Additionally, in Vista reduced-functionality mode, the default Web browser will be started and the user will be presented with an option to purchase a new product key. There is no start menu, no desktop icons, and the desktop background is changed to black. The Web browser will fully function and Internet connectivity will not be blocked. After one hour, the system will log the user out without warning. It will not shut down the machine, and the user can log back in. Note: This is different from the Windows XP RFM experience, which limits screen resolution, colors, sounds and other features,” as my blogging colleague Ed Bott explained last month.

Office 2007 users who are running the Office 2007 programs under the one-month free trial have no OGA grace period; “the Office programs run in reduced-functionality mode the first time that the programs start,” the Knowledge Base article says. Users who are licensing Office 2007 under a regular “perpetual” license may skip product activation 25 times. On the 26th attempt, Office 2007 will start in reduced-functionality mode, according to Microsoft's Knowledge Base article.

Update: While some blogs and Web sites are reporting there is no 'kill switch' in Office 2007 (per Microsoft's supposed claim), you be the judge. Here is Microsoft's statement, dated November 20, 2006, courtesy of a Microsoft spokeswoman:

"Product Activation technology is not new to Microsoft Office, which has had Product Activation since Microsoft Office 2000 SR1. It is important to note the distinction between activation and validation. Failure to validate your copy of the 2007 Office system as being genuine does not result in moving to reduced functionality mode (RFM) or de-featuring the product.  However, if the product is not activated , it will go to RFM (reduced-functionality mode) after starting up a Microsoft Office application 25 times."