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MS' step-by-step intro of new WPA with WinXP SP1

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The Register has received further information regarding Microsoft's redesign of the product activation system, due to be introduced with WinXP Service Pack 1. Our sources say that yes, a slipstreamed install of SP1 will mean you have to get a new key from Microsoft, but confirm that if you just install over the existing installation this won't be the case.

Microsoft will be blocking installation of SP1 and further access to Windows Update for installations using any of three leaked keys, and there still seems to be some doubt as to how far beyond this the company will go. It is still possible that users of these keys will find themselves locked out of their machines, but this would be a significant escalation, particularly as earlier this year Microsoft said users with leaked keys would be able to carry on using their machine, they just wouldn't be able to update it.

The changes that necessitate a new key if you slipstream are in licdll.dll and msgina.dll, and the differentiation between slipstreamed and non-slipstreamed has a neat logic to it, accourding to our sources. If every single XP installation in the corporate market needed a new key, and that was that, IT managers would be deeply unhappy and ballistic bunnies. But if they have the option of just applying SP1 and not having to get a new key, then maybe it's still a pain for some of them, but they have a workaround, and they'll mainly bitch quietly, rather than howling.

From Microsoft's point of view, also, it's probably more important for the new key system to be present on new installations and newly-sold computers than it is to have another go at all the machines that are already out there. These will be slowly picked-off anyway.

Our sources also describe the suggestions that Microsoft will introduce a 'phone home' component to regularly check for licence validity as "very far fetched." Microsoft is certainly giving itself the right to do this in its new EULAs, and this kind of checking is certainly one of the few obvious ways the company could stand a chance of nailing large numbers of non-legit installations. However, the damage that would be done to the company's image if it did this is probably seen by Redmond as too great a cost. Indeed, Microsoft may have changed the EULAs to gauge how much it would hurt if it did it - now it knows.

Without phone home and without widespread imposition of the new WPA rev it seems fairly clear that SP1 won't present a major and immediate problem to warez or pirates. Those using leaked keys will be needing a new one, and if lockouts are implemented in the shipping product then they'll also face the inconvenience of a reinstall. And software pirates will certainly face a decrease in customer satisfaction, if they vape their systems by carelessly installing SP1 - from Microsoft's point of view this could be very useful, because it'll help identify outlets passing off pirate copies as the real thing.

But the war is iterative, and Microsoft no doubt views its activities as slowly improving its chances of damping down piracy and warez, rather than eliminating it entirely. Whether or not WPA is the sensible way to do it is another matter, but for the moment WPA is what Microsoft has got. ®

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