WOW or Woody's operating Watch says...
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I hate to report on rumors unless I can get a very firm feel for whether they're true or not.
Unfortunately, this rumor has become so widespread, I have to bring it to your attention. So let me preface what I'm about to say with a stern warning: I don't believe this rumor at all. It has enough elements that "smell right" so I think it's remotely based on fact, and it brings up a cautionary point that all of us should consider. With no small amount of trepidation. But it's only a rumor.
According to the rumor, Microsoft is changing Windows Product Activation in WinXP's Service Pack 1, which is due any day. We all knew that there were some WPA changes coming - I talked about them last month in my WinXP Newsletter 2.21. The most significant SP-1 WPA "feature" that everyone knows about is the disabling of one specific corporate CD key: if you try to apply the SP-1 patch over the top of a copy of Windows XP that used this specific CD key, the installer refuses to run. Microsoft made SP-1 work that way because this one CD key, which begins FCKGW-RHQQ2..., has been used on hundreds of thousands of bootleg copies of WinXP. I've tested this "feature" in the beta version of SP-1, and believe me, it works.
[Historical sidebar: The FCKGW-RHQQ2... CD key started out as a legitimate corporate WinXP Pro CD key, but it was soon being passed around to crackers all over the globe. Corporate CD keys, as you probably know, can be used an unlimited number of times. Individual CD keys - the kind you paid for if you bought a retail version of WinXP - can only be used on one machine. Apparently Microsoft contacted the company that was issued the FCKGW-RHQQ2... CD key, and convinced them to change over to a new one. The only people who use this particular CD key now are software pirates - whether they know it or not.]
The rumor (which apparently originated on a Web site called BetaONE, but is best covered in The Register) says that Microsoft is going to change corporate CD keys entirely. If I understand the rumor correctly, one of three situations will apply:
If you try to install the SP-1 patch onto a working, activated copy of Windows XP, and the copy of Windows XP was originally installed with the FCKGW-RHQQ2... corporate CD key, the SP-1 patch refuses to install. No biggie - nothing gets broken, and there's no call sent out to the software police - but you need to get a legit copy of WinXP before you can upgrade it to SP-1.
If you try to install the SP-1 patch onto any other working, activated copy of Windows XP, you won't have any problem.
The rub comes if you perform a full install of Windows XP SP-1 from the new CD - the version that has SP-1 built into it; the version that should be on store shelves soon - or if you're installing the new Windows XP SP-1 from a corporate server. In both cases you'll be asked to provide a CD key, same as you are today, but if you use an old corporate CD key, WinXP SP-1 will refuse to install. You'll need a new CD key.
The rumor also says that these new corporate CD keys will only work on "legitimate" installations from corporate servers. The new corporate CD keys won't work if you install from a CD, and they won't work if you simply copy the files from a pirate CD onto your home server.
The upshot if the rumor proves true: companies that install Windows from a server will have to upgrade the files on the server in a particular way, and use new CD keys when they roll out WinXP SP-1. Individuals who install WinXP or WinXP SP-1 with legitimate CD keys don't have anything to worry about. The old corporate CD keys won't work any more; even the new ones won't work on anything except a legitimate server-based corporate install. And the crackers will have yet another puzzle to solve.
I figure it'll take about 48 hours for them to circumvent the new restrictions
People privy to the rumor are already fretting that Microsoft will come down like a ton of bricks on companies with new corporate CD keys that get leaked - presuming the crackers find a way to circumvent the "legitimate" server-based installation restriction, and the new corporate CD keys can be made to work on pirate versions of SP-1. I figure that's malarkey. If Janit the Temporary Janitor at XYZ Corp sees a memo that mentions a new WinXP SP-1 corporate CD key, and Janit gives a copy of the memo to Slacker the Cracker, how can Microsoft put the screws to XYZ? Doesn't make sense.
There's also a separate rumor that corporate versions of WinXP SP-1 will "phone home" each time they're re-connected to the Internet, sending Microsoft the computer's installation ID and IP address, thus permitting MS to track down which machines are using corporate licenses. If that happens, Big Brother will be one step closer to our door.
What worries me most about the rumor? Everything I've seen mentioned is technically feasible, and Microsoft can implement it without violating any existing End-User License Agreements. While the impact of the rumor on legitimate individual users is nill, corporate types will have to jump through several hoops, and the transition will no doubt be painful. It makes me wonder what Microsoft might decide to do to make our lives more complex - and what they can get away with - all in the name of copy protection. Whether the rumor proves true or not, the fact that Microsoft could get away with a scheme like this, legally, makes me shudder.
Let me end where I started: this is a rumor. I've seen no independent confirmation, either inside or outside Microsoft. You shouldn't believe any of it, until we hear otherwise. But it certainly should give you pause.
I'll keep you posted, of course.
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