More Windows Vista Activation Woes

Dennis Faas's picture

In my opinion, people don't need any more reason to avoid Windows Vista like the plague, but now APC Magazine is reporting that swapping out a video card or updating a device driver can end up triggering a complete Vista deactivation.

 What does it mean?  The results could lead to Reduced Functionality Mode (RFM), until one can obtain a new activation code from Microsoft.

A few days after swapping out a video card on a computer running Windows Vista Ultimate the APC author started receiving a Windows Activation prompt telling him he had three days to activate Windows or he'd end up going into RFM. Because his product key was already in use (by him) he had to speak with a Microsoft customer service representative to receive a new key.

Wondering why Vista had deactivated, he contacted Microsoft who sent him some special utilities to run that gathered the history of hardware changes on his computer since activation. According to the Windows Vista utilities his disk controller had changed. Changing the video card became the final change which tripped deactivation.

The problem is, he never changed his disk controller. Because he upgraded the Intel Matrix Storage Manager application, it was reported as a major hardware change event. Individually, neither event was enough to trigger deactivation but cumulatively they were.

Ineffective Windows Product Activation

Windows Product Activation (WPA) was introduced in Windows XP Service Pack 1 as a way to fight software piracy. Since its inception WPA has had annoying tendencies, consistently requiring updates and fixes from Microsoft. As noted by the author, WPA has been essentially unchanged for Windows Vista from Windows XP, except that Vista is supposed to be more tolerant.

When first activated, Windows establishes a baseline on the installed hardware, not from hardware IDs since they're not necessarily unique but from the hardware information as reported by the device drivers. Unfortunately, using device drivers as the basis for activation information can result in changing the way the hardware information is reported to Windows. A change in the driver model can be enough to register as a physical hardware change.

In other words, if you install and activate Vista using the drivers downloaded from Windows Update then update the drivers using the manufacturer's driver you run the risk of the drivers using different reporting models which will result in registering as a physical change.

No control of Vista

As mentioned above, there is no question that Microsoft needs to be able to protect its software but WPA has been more effective at punishing legitimate purchasers than software pirates. A loophole provided to OEMs to allow an activation was quickly exploited.

Consequently, as far as WPA is concerned, there's no difference between someone trying to image two machines with the same activated version of Windows or a legitimate user wanting to upgrade their system.

Exactly what business does Microsoft have knowing what you do with Your software You purchased as long as You're not breaking the terms of license?

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