Microsoft has finally revealed the details of its Product Activation antipiracy solution for Windows XP (Whistler) and Office XP (Office 10), a feature that WinInfo Daily UPDATE first divulged early this year. Windows XP and Office XP will discourage casual copying by limiting the number of times you can use a single Product ID to install these products. The plan, however, has some users up in arms.
In the past, you could use a single licensed copy of Windows or Office to install that product on any number of machines. But the Product Activation feature will make this kind of installation difficult by tying a product's registration to a particular PC.
"Consumers sometimes unwittingly violate their license agreement by sharing software with others," Allen Nieman, the technical product manager for Microsoft's licensing technology group, says somewhat coyly. "Through education efforts and the use of technology solutions like Product Activation, we're working to make sure that customers who choose Microsoft software products acquire genuine software and are eligible for technical support and product upgrades." Product Activation first reared its head in certain international versions of Office 2000, and the company says that its success in those markets has caused it to expand the program to include all versions of Windows XP and Office XP, as well as upcoming versions of Visio and other Microsoft products.
More directly addressing the true reason for the technology, Robert Holleyman, president and CEO of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), a software industry watchdog group, notes that the "unauthorized sharing and illegal distribution of creative works, through any means, poses a serious threat to consumers and the global economy and must be taken seriously." The BSA says that in 1999 software piracy cost the computer industry $13 billion.
But users aren't impressed with the antipiracy measures, which to some constitute a violation of their rights. Not so, says Microsoft. Each copy of Windows and Office is generally licensed for one machine, not one user. When you purchase software products at retail, Microsoft says, you're often entitled to install the product on one desktop machine and one laptop. But copies of Windows and Office that are bundled with a new PC are bound by a "single-use OEM license" that limits the product's use to the machine with which it was bought. Even if you change machines at a later date, the license can't be transferred to the new PC. So Microsoft is simply using Product Activation to enforce a licensing strategy that's been in place for years.