Soon after Microsoft announced its intentions to release another version of its ever-popular Windows operating system, the topic of how it plans to activate this software upset quite a few people, including TechRepublic members. The controversy surrounds the Windows/Office XP Internet license activation that will be required for use.

Read this In Response column to find out more about Microsoft’s activation requirement, and then let us know what you think about it.

Understanding Microsoft’s perspective
According to an MSNBC report, Microsoft loses billions of dollars each year due to illegal pirating of its software. Millions of copies of the Windows operating system and Microsoft’s Office suite are pirated and sold on the black market as part of an illegal PC bundle and on the Internet. With Microsoft’s newly proposed security features included in Windows XP and Office XP, the company will be able to put the licensing control of its software back into its own hands.

How the activation works
Activating the new operating system is actually quite simple. After a user or organization purchases a copy of Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system or its Office XP suite, they can install the software on any desired machine. But here’s the catch: Once the software is installed, users must “activate” the application on the Internet before a set period, or else it will stop working. This means if you don’t activate your copy of Windows XP or Office XP before the allotted time, you have wasted your time with the install. And if you try to install the OS on more machines than you have licenses for, then the application simply will not work, even if it has been completely uninstalled from previous machines.

First-hand experience
I haven’t used Office XP yet, but I have tested a copy of Windows XP Beta 2, and I now understand the frustration that administrators will likely encounter with the new licensing system.

When you first install Windows XP Beta 2, you are given the option to configure your network settings so that you can dial up via modem or connect via LAN to register your product with Microsoft. If you opt to complete the installation first, you will be given a reminder to register the product after the installation has been completed. A little registration icon will appear on the desktop, as well as with the Start menu.

If I had chosen to complete the registration process sometime after the installation, Windows XP would have only worked for a few days before it required me to register with Microsoft. If I hadn’t registered the beta by the time the “trial” period expired, the software would no longer operate properly. For me, the expiration period raises a few interesting issues:

  • What if you didn’t have an Internet connection?
    Is it ignorance on the part of Microsoft to assume that everyone has an Internet connection? What if you were administering a network in a remote area without dial-up connectivity?
  • Will IT professionals consider Microsoft’s servers reliable enough to store and activate essential software?
    It’s no secret that Microsoft has been unable to brag about its server uptime as of late. Picture this: You’re on the final day of the registration “trial” period and decide to register your product with Microsoft. But when you try to register, you get a message saying the servers aren’t responding, which prevents you from registering your product and getting an activation code. How will this affect your company and its software rollout?
  • Will licensing activation bring down prices?
    Asking users to pay an outrageous fee for a product and then making them register that product is to some IT pros a virtual slap in the face.
  • What will Microsoft do with my system information?
    Privacy issues are important to both end users and IT professionals. Your company could face security issues if vital information about your network was leaked.
  • What happens if my machine receives a major overhaul?
    If you do any kind of major upgrading with your computer system and reinstall Windows/Office XP, you may need to call Microsoft to inform them of your upgrade. Find out more in this Wired News article.

What do you, as an IT professional, think about Microsoft’s new licensing activation feature? Do you believe this feature is fair for a typical home PC user? We want to hear your opinions! Feel free to leave a post below or send us a note with your input on this interesting new development from Microsoft.