More News About Product Activation Requirements

Several weeks ago, I wrote about activating a copy of Office XP after I'd used the copy’s first two product activations. Apparently, this topic touched a nerve; I received a huge volume of email echoing my concerns. Quite a few readers said they'd never touch a Microsoft product that required this type of product activation. But the responses also show that few people understand the concerns involved with Microsoft's product-activation feature.

I received several messages from readers asking about how the product-activation feature would affect upgrading several hundred users to Office XP. In these cases, administrators should use one of Microsoft's corporate-licensing plans. These licenses don't require individual product activations. When you enter the appropriate license code, the software doesn't connect to the Internet to check for information about your system. However, you need to protect these license keys because if the keys turn up on cracker Web sites or newsgroups, Microsoft can trace the keys back to the corporation that acquired them.

I can clear up another misunderstanding about retail Office XP copies: Purchasers receive two activations—one desktop and one laptop—so if you have that environment, you don't have to purchase an additional copy.

Windows XP users expressed concern about system upgrades. Microsoft doesn't identify the components it uses to uniquely identify system hardware, so users want to know what changes (e.g., additional hard disks, new NICs, more memory) will require a new product activation. I don't have an answer for this question. When I've asked Microsoft direct questions about system changes, the answer has usually been "That probably won't require a new activation." I discovered that changing a computer's NIC might require a new activation because the NIC's media access control (MAC) address (which is unique to each card) is on the list of items that Microsoft uses to identify a system.

I recently upgraded a notebook system running Windows XP. The computer's built-in battery charger had died, so I put the old notebook's hard disk in a new notebook. Before making the switch, I asked Microsoft whether putting my old hard disk in a new notebook would require me to reactivate the OS and received both positive and negative answers, depending on who I asked. The consensus seemed to be that because the hardware is identical, I won't need to reactivate the OS.

So with some minor trepidation, I swapped the hard disks. Curiously, although the hardware wasn't identical (the OS identified a different DVD drive in the replacement notebook), the new notebook started. It even started from the hibernation state (I'd left the hard disk in hibernation mode on the previous notebook). I know that Windows XP doesn't call for activation when it starts from hibernation, so I forced a hard boot, and the system came back up without needing reactivation.

The types of changes that require a reactivation of Windows XP and Office XP are still unclear, but apparently, product-activation requirements are not as sensitive as some users presume. We'll see what happens when Windows XP is in more general use.

This week's tip
Yes, they're back! Each week, I'll include a Windows 2000 Professional tip at the end of my commentary. We'll start with an easy one.

I'm not a big fan of a cluttered taskbar (I always turn off the taskbar's Quick Launch feature to free up space), but I like to turn on the taskbar's Address option. The Address option is equivalent to having the Start menu's Run command always available. As with the Run command, you can enter either a URL or a program command. And you can select from the Address option's drop-down list of the most recently used commands and addresses.

To configure the taskbar's Address option, right-click the taskbar, select Toolbars, Address, and resize the Address bar to your preference.

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