Vista: No Activation Required for 1 Year

Dennis Faas's picture

Some versions of Windows Vista can be run for at almost a year without being activated, says Brian Livingston.

Livingston, who publishes the Windows Secrets newsletter said that a single change to Vista's Registry lets users put off the operating system's product activation requirement an additional eight times beyond the three disclosed last month. With more research, said Livingston, it may even be possible to find a way to postpone activation indefinitely.

Despite the fact that Microsoft has online documentation spelling out the pertinent Registry key, Microsoft promptly labelled the Registry change a "hack", a word that is usually used to imply that it's illegal.

"The activation demands that Vista puts on corporate buyers is much more than on XP," said Livingston. "Vista developers have apparently programmed in back doors to get around time restrictions for Vista activation."

"Recently it has been reported that an activation hack for Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system has been identified," said David Lazar, the director of the company's Genuine Windows programme, in an email. "Although these reports are purely speculative at the moment, we are actively monitoring attempts to steal Microsoft intellectual property."

Last month Livinston revealed a one-line command that lets users postpone Vista activation up to three times letting you try Vista for 120 days before you had to activate it. At the time Microsoft seemed unconcerned, flatly stating that using it would not violate the Vista end user license agreement.

"The feature I'm revealing today shows that Microsoft has built into Vista a function that allows anyone to extend the OS's activation deadline not just three times, but many times," Livingston said.

Microsoft documented the key on its support site in a description of what it calls "SkipRearm". In it, Microsoft explains that "rearming a computer restores the Windows system to the original licensing state. All licensing and Registry data related to activation is either removed or reset. Any grace period timers are reset as well."

By changing the SkipRearm key's value from the default 0 to 1, said Livingston, the earlier-revealed 'slmgr -rearm' command can be used over and over.

Testing of several versions of Vista purchased at different times, Livingston found that copies of Vista Ultimate and Vista Home premium obtained at the end of January would accept the SkipRearm change eight times.

With the three postponements made possible by the slmgr -rearm command and the 30 day grace period, users would have 360 days (nearly a year) of activation free use.

However, a copy of Vista Home Basic bought on March 14th ignored the SkipRearm Registry change. "Microsoft has slipstreamed something into Home Basic and Home Premium," Livingston said. "But from my reading of the support documents, Microsoft needs to keep this feature in its business editions, Vista Business, Enterprise and Ultimate. It seems that Microsoft is sympathetic to enterprises' difficulty in rolling out Vista within the activation deadlines."

"This is somewhat of a threat to Microsoft," Livingston said. "But the extent to what it can retroactively patch, I don't know. Maybe the firm will want to change this. But that would only call more attention to activation, and perhaps reveal the mechanism Vista is using to count SkipRearm."

Livingston has not been able to find where Vista stores the SkipRearm count; conceivably, that count is what restricts its use to a maximum of eight. If someone was to find the count location, however, and manage to change that as well as the SkipRearm Registry key, users might be able to postpone activation forever, said Livingston.

Product activation was introduced in 2001 with Office XP and Windows XP. Activation was toughened up for Vista, however; after the grace period, non-activated PCs running Vista drop into what Microsoft calls 'reduced functionality' mode. In reduced mode, users can only browse the web with Internet Explorer, and then only for an hour before being forced to again log on.

Livingston's workaround, however, may do away with activation altogether. "Activation has become so convoluted, the way Microsoft has implemented it, that it's more of an irritation to legitimate users than a worthwhile antipiracy measure," Livingston concluded.

Naturally, Microsoft sees it differently saying that the new anti-piracy technologies in Windows Vista are designed to protect customers and prevent the software from working correctly when it's not genuine and properly licensed.

Visit Bill's Links and More for more great tips, just like this one!

| Tags:
Rate this article: 
No votes yet