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WinXP testers get unique IDs from MS, plus a workaround

Redmond logic: 2428 code will only work with ID, unless you disable it

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Microsoft has ratcheted up the security in the latest build of the Windows XP, which went up on Microsoft's FTP servers last night, and on the 'unofficial' FTP servers shortly afterwards. But it's a virtual ratchet, largely - according to the build 2428 release notes that escaped along with (of course) the code, each technical beta tester is being assigned a unique installation product key in order to unlock the build.

But then the notes go on to tell us that the build has a registry key that can be used to disable the product activation in this build. So although you've got a unique key that can be tracked back to you (possibly...), you don't actually need to use it anyway. Previous leaked builds have been accompanied by various patches and workarounds that deal with the product activation technology, but with 2428 Microsoft is saving these, er, misguided enthusiasts the effort by putting the workaround in the release notes.

Weird or what? The kindest way to look at it is that Microsoft is still pretty nervous about ticking-off its testers, and is still concentrating on getting them used to the idea of protection, in preparation for the actuality.

The company says that the registry key will not be present in future builds and in Beta 2, but actually it's doubtful that the shutters can be slammed down effectively when (if) Redmond finally decides to fully enable the system. Current Microsoft product key systems usually have back doors in them so that the people Microsoft trusts (or at least, has to pretend it trusts) can get their jobs down. So OEM support departments, for example, get access to 'universal' keys, and these escape.

Microsoft could try cracking down on escapes, but the release notes suggest it's not quite ready to do so. Testers are told not to share their product key on pain of losing their technical beta privileges, except with "designated representatives in corporate testing situations." Similar exceptions will no doubt exist when the finished product ships, so there goes Fort Knox, folks.

You'll recall we observed yesterday that despite claims elsewhere to the contrary, the restriction of Beta 2 to a small number of testers was unlikely to be anything to do with controlling code leaks. Microsoft tells testers that 2428 will not be made generally available on CD, but ISO images almost immediately became available today from non-Microsoft sites.

The shelf life of the code itself may however be limited. According to the estimable Mary Jo Foley testers are being told to expect Beta 2 on February 19th (nine days closer than the last ETA spotted), and that it's possible that 2428 might itself be designated as Beta 2. Which would make the product notes for 2428 even weirder than you thought they were, but there you go... ®

Related story:
Early death for 98 as MS pushes WinXP - public beta confirmed

Reducing security risks from open source software

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