Vista volume license keys to be tagged


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"Corporate Edition" versions of Windows have been the blessing of both IT workers and casual pirates since the days of Windows 95, when the operating system first started asking for a license key on installation. Large firms and OEMs who did not want to go through the hassle of typing in a CD key for every install received Volume License Keys (VLKs) that could be used on as many installs as necessary. Microsoft relied on the honor system to ensure that companies did not abuse this privilege, but it looks as if with Vista this system may be ending:

"We are making changes to the process to Vista and a new approach to VLK licensing," Mike Sievert, corporate vice president of Windows client marketing for Microsoft told CRN during a recent interview. "We're training our enterprise customers and we'll do some key management for customers that's more automated and makes reporting easier."

The exact details of the "new approach" to VLKs haven't been made clear, but Ward Ralston, a senior technology product manager at Microsoft, has confirmed that the company is "introducing the notion of a key management server" for Windows Vista Server. This program will require licensed customers to check in their keys and Client Access Licenses (CALs) every 30 days, via an automatic reporting process. The procedure for the Vista client will likely not require a key management server, but may also "phone home" periodically to report on the status of various VLK installs.

Microsoft has been slowly introducing more and more antipiracy controls with its software products ever since CD keys made their debut with Windows 95. Windows XP introduced product activation (WPA) that combined CD keys with a hardware hash generated at install time. Corporate editions did not require activation, and when pirate groups leaked corporate VLKs into the wild, Microsoft decided to attack the problem from the other end. These VLKs were marked as "invalid" and new keys issued to the corporations and OEMs that originally used them. This didn't affect pirated copies of XP that had already been installed elsewhere, so Microsoft came up with the idea of Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA).

WGA checked the user's license key and compared it against a "blacklist" of known leaked VLKs. Microsoft made passing WGA mandatory to download noncritical updates from the Windows Update web site, as well as for many "free" downloads, such as the new version of Windows Defender. WGA was also found to periodically "phone home" license key information back to Microsoft.

The addition of new reporting tools for VLKs puts the antipiracy pressure back on corporations and OEMs. The debate over whether these measures actually defeat piracy is endless. While WGA was cracked early and often, Microsoft continues to make changes to the program to defeat the crackers, including embedding new versions of the WGA check into the installation executable for programs like the Internet Explorer 7 beta. At some point, many casual pirates may decide that chasing down all the cracks is simply too much effort.

The real question is whether or not adding new antipiracy measures to corporate versions of Windows will annoy IT managers enough to consider alternatives to Microsoft software. However, any move away from Windows will be slow if it happens at all—after all, the predicted backlash against Windows over XP's product activation had no measurable impact on the platform's market share. Microsoft is also not the only company introducing more stringent antipiracy reporting. Adobe added activation technology for all products (both PC and Macintosh) in their Creative Suite 2, and Quark has required the use of a "License Administrator" since version 6. Look for this trend to continue in the future, as software companies try to maximize their revenue in an era of increasing costs.

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If I'm reading this rightly, that then means that if an employee of a company with a VLK of Vista leaks the serial number then when all the companies machines reports to MS with that key then they get locked out... how is that a good thing again? And who will be footing the bill for the IT guy's hours spent changing license keys?

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Great stuff - the more they try to restrict their users and create annoyances for them, the more free and open software flourishes and gets free publicity at their expense.

Good going Microsoft, I fully support whatever you're doing to **** off your customers.

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I see this being circumvented very soon after release.

The only way I see viable for Microsoft to stop keys being pirated is to use some form of hardware.

I have seen this done with software. Ayaya for example, use a piece of Hardware called a Dongle, that plugs into either the Serial Port, or a USB Port on the computer. The Licence keys are unique, and only work if it matches the dongle Serial Number. If no match is found, the software just refuses to run.

This Information could be included in the MBR so windows looks for it during the boot up process.

These Dongles could be sold with each copy of Windows. As Avaya does with their Software

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I see this being circumvented very soon after release.

The only way I see viable for Microsoft to stop keys being pirated is to use some form of hardware.

I have seen this done with software. Ayaya for example, use a piece of Hardware called a Dongle, that plugs into either the Serial Port, or a USB Port on the computer. The Licence keys are unique, and only work if it matches the dongle Serial Number. If no match is found, the software just refuses to run.

This Information could be included in the MBR so windows looks for it during the boot up process.

These Dongles could be sold with each copy of Windows. As Avaya does with their Software

dongles are u kidding me... even if they do only one person would need it to break it and pirate it... lost cause for M$ plus all that money makeing it hehe they should give up :p

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If I'm reading this rightly, that then means that if an employee of a company with a VLK of Vista leaks the serial number then when all the companies machines reports to MS with that key then they get locked out... how is that a good thing again? And who will be footing the bill for the IT guy's hours spent changing license keys?

I can see it now. People will be intentionally installing leaked keys to intentionally cause companies to be locked out. Can you imagine if that were true? Everyone on the planet would be trying to determine the VLK used at MS HQ so they could trigger everyone desktop at MS to be locked out.

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IT manager: "WTF?!?! I have to receive a call every 30 days?!?!"

*Moves to Linux...

IT Managers need more work in less time, and this will probably stunt productivity for both the client (IT Managers company) and Microsoft.

That is of course, if I am reading it right...

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I see this being circumvented very soon after release.

You meant to say, circumvented 'BEFORE' release.

It won't take long for pirates to find a way around this !

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The article isn't too spesific on the "calling home" procedure, but couldn't you just block any communication with the verification servers? The communication will probably be hidden from the user so a regular firewall probably won't work, but maybe it would be possible on a dedicated firewall device (network gateway etc.).

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If I'm reading this rightly, that then means that if an employee of a company with a VLK of Vista leaks the serial number then when all the companies machines reports to MS with that key then they get locked out... how is that a good thing again? And who will be footing the bill for the IT guy's hours spent changing license keys?

That's a very goodpoint. Looking at how WGA works right now, blocking a key would mean that the original owner of the key would be marked as non legit too. I'm sure they've thought about this.

The article isn't too spesific on the "calling home" procedure, but couldn't you just block any communication with the verification servers? The communication will probably be hidden from the user so a regular firewall probably won't work, but maybe it would be possible on a dedicated firewall device (network gateway etc.).

I think WGA calls home even before windows completes the start up. But then again, I suppose some WiFis connect after windows has started.

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Great stuff - the more they try to restrict their users and create annoyances for them, the more free and open software flourishes and gets free publicity at their expense.

Thats a good point. I was thinking exactly the same.

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Here's a Quote from the comments page of the original news post:

"Posted by +Raven on 28 Jun 2006 - 15:29

I can't believe the comments here. You will pay Microsoft the money, they will continue to do copy protection as they seem fit, and you have no choice. What are you going to do? There is no VIABLE substitute for Windows. Microsoft knows this and will continue to do whatever they feel like doing.

Resistance is futile....."

Well I'd like to respond to that by saying this:

Of course you are entitled to your opinion however, you simply need to do additional research.

Why is it that the French Government 2 years ago, dumped Microsoft and is now run entirely by the Mandriva Linux OS? The 1st phase of this project which was completed 7 months ago eliminated ALL Microsoft based servers from their environment. Phase 2 of this project is the elimination of Microsoft based clients. I guess this is one example of a large organization giving MS the thumb.

Here's a link to one of several news sites that released the info: http://www.internetnews.com/dev-news/article.php/3378951

What need another example? My pleasure. Why is it that the entire German Government is ran by SuSe Linux a now Novell product? The change was prompted by the German City of Schwaebisch which is believed to be the 1st local government to drop all Windows based systems (servers and clients) back in 2003, and the company Deutsche Telekom who also dropped MS (but only for servers I believe). After seeing these implementations the German Ministry of the Interior jumped on the bandwagon, and it quickly spread. It has been rumored that some of Germany's government agencies switched to Debian after Novell acquired SuSe but it hasn't been comfirmed. Personally after switching their entire world over to SuSe in 2003-2004, making another change so soon seems unlikely. Still Debian is not a MS OS to the point remains valid. Oh and by the way, the City of Munich also runs all their desktops on linux as well.

Here's a link to one of many about this: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2003-03-24-linuxburg_x.htm

And for my final example: In a deal struck up between the Swiss Government and Novell, Inc. just this past December with make the 3rd government I'm aware of to switch over to the Linux world. They made a deal to covert over 3,000 of their servers, and even more recently are discussing the possibility of clients as well.

So in conclusion no other viable choice? Sorry your badly mistaken. The Linux/Open-Source world has been working very hard to make viable alternatives to the Microsoft King, and in the past three years many corporations and governments are making the decision to emrace these alternatives. Plus many more run mixed environments. So is MS the King of the OS world, yes and they will continue to be so for some time. I hope MS is careful though because I know quite a few large to Fortune xxx companies that still run off Windows 2000 because they didn't see the necessity to upgrade to the XP world. This is also VERY strongly seen in the service sector from gasoline stations, restaurant chains, hotel chains, etc. Oh and yes I am a Windows person (however I do run a Linux desktop as well). I say that to say while I believe Microsoft will continue to reign on top in the market share department for some time, to say there are not other viable and USER FRIENDLY choice is simply an unfounded statement. You are right about another thing MS will continue to do whatever they feel like.

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Why is it that the French Government 2 years ago, dumped Microsoft and is now run entirely by the Mandriva Linux OS? The 1st phase of this project which was completed 7 months ago eliminated ALL Microsoft based servers from their environment. Phase 2 of this project is the elimination of Microsoft based clients. I guess this is one example of a large organization giving MS the thumb.

Seems to me (even as an OpenSource/Linux advocate) that you should try to find examples of Linux being used on desktop (client) PCs. I don't think anyone would claim that Linux is not very capable as a server.

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Seems to me (even as an OpenSource/Linux advocate) that you should try to find examples of Linux being used on desktop (client) PCs. I don't think anyone would claim that Linux is not very capable as a server.

Well to be honest until recently, but you definitely have a choice with OSX as a Windows replacement. You can either hack it to work on PC or you just buy a Mac. You have alternatives.

Personally I think that MS is going down pretty soon if they keep doing stuff like this. Their online services might be a complete flop, Vista is already getting old and it's not even out yet, Apple switch to Intel killed them even more with OSX being able to run on the new architecture.

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I find it interesting how so many people are complaining about the Windows authentication services.... I'm sure it'll be perfectly fine when Vista is out. Personally, I find it amazing how many people illegiately aquire XP.... this has gone far past script kiddies etc. even clueless people are using pirated versions to simply spend less money. It's not that much to pay for the upgrade to XP Home or the full version if you've never had a Windows OS before...

Most people who complain about the high prices don't even purchase the OS.... furthermore they don't even need XP Pro. Most people who actually need XP Pro have ways of gettings the OS at lower prices... either through their business or school.

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