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Confronting Invalid XP Software

Make sure your copy of this OS is legal

I don't usually write about pirated OS or application software in this commentary. I especially avoid discussing the problems surrounding Windows Product Activation (WPA) and the fact that you can install a particular copy of the Windows XP software on only one computer. However, in the past week, I've worked with two users who discovered that their XP software was invalid when they tried to upgrade their computer to XP Service Pack 1 (SP1). Both users had thought that their copy of XP Professional Edition was licensed, not pirated.

The first user is a neighbor who telecommutes a couple of days a month. She bought a new computer before moving in next door and gave me a call when she had problems upgrading her copy of XP Pro. Her copy was the first case of the use of a pirated XP corporate key that I've run into. But I wasn't really surprised: This neighbor had moved to the United States from an assignment in Hong Kong, and--at least in her case--the reputation Hong Kong has earned for being a haven for pirated software held true. Her problem was easy to solve because the large company she works for has a legal corporate license for XP Pro. To enter the valid licensing key in her computer, I took the following steps:
1. In regedit, I opened the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\ Windows NT\CurrentVersion\WPAEvents registry subkey.
2. I changed the data value of the OOBETimer entry to deactivate Windows.
3. I exited regedit.
4. At the Run command, I entered "msoobe.exe /a" (without the quotation marks).
5. I selected "Yes, I want to telephone a customer service representative to activate Windows." I clicked Next.
6. I clicked "Change Product Key."
7. I entered the valid corporate key.
8. I clicked Update.
9. I rebooted the computer.

You can find the official Microsoft directions for completing this procedure at;en-us;q328874.

I was able to solve this user's problem because the pirated key for her software was a corporate key that didn't require activation. My second neighbor wasn't so fortunate; he had bought his computer, which came with a pirated copy of XP Pro, from a nameless vendor at a computer show. He swore that the vendor showed him the official Microsoft OEM product license sheet, but when I asked him to produce that document, he couldn't find it anywhere in the pile of papers that had come with the computer. The procedure I used to help my first neighbor works only with a corporate license--no way exists to change a corporate copy of XP into a retail copy without reinstalling the software from scratch. And, unfortunately, buying a retail copy of XP Pro and installing it is what this user had to do.

I recommend that users buy computer equipment from local Value Added Resellers (VARs). But even so, you need to make sure that you know who to follow up with if you should have problems with the equipment. Also make certain that you have a legal copy of every application the equipment comes with, complete with its documentation (and media, if possible).

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