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Microsoft Product Activation is a DRM technology used by Microsoft Corporation in several of its computer software programs , most notably its Windows operating system and its Office productivity suite. The procedure enforces compliance with the program’s end-user license agreement by transmitting information about both the product key used to install the program and the user’s computer hardware to Microsoft, inhibiting or completely preventing the use of the program until the validity of its license is confirmed.
The procedure has been met with significant criticism by many consumers, technical analysts and computer experts, who argue that it is poorly designed, highly inconvenient and ultimately does nothing to prevent software piracy.
This technology is also used in Microsoft Office products during activation. When installing a retail copy of Windows or Office, the user is asked to input a unique product key supplied on a certificate of authenticity included with the program, which is later verified during activation.
Throughout this grace period, the user will be periodically reminded to activate the program, with warnings becoming more frequent over time.
Certain versions of Windows and Office are available under a volume license , where a single product key is used for multiple installations.
Programs purchased under this license must still be activated, with the exception of Windows XP and all versions of Office released prior to Office If Windows is pre-installed on a computer by an original equipment manufacturer OEM , the operating system is automatically activated without the need for interaction from the user. On each boot, Windows confirms the presence of specific information stored in the BIOS by the manufacturer, ensuring the activation only remains valid on that computer, even if the product key is used on another machine.
If activation is not performed within the grace period or fails because of an illegal or invalid product key, the following restrictions will be imposed on the user:. When activation takes place, the program saves a record of the verification data in the user’s computer.
If the system is booted up with significant hardware changes, the application will likely require reactivation to prevent the same copy of the program being installed on two different systems. On Windows 10 and Windows 11 , the activation process can also generate a “digital entitlement”, which allows the operating system’s hardware and license status to be saved to the activation servers, so that the operating system’s license can automatically be restored after a clean installation without the need to enter a product key.
A maximum of 10 retail transferable digital licenses can be linked to a single Microsoft account. OEM digital licenses are not transferable and therefore do not count against this limit. Activation is performed with a utility supplied with Windows and Office called the Activation Wizard. It can be performed either over the Internet or by telephone. In this case, an installation ID is generated, which is then read to the agent. The agent verifies the information and replies with a confirmation ID, which is then typed into the Activation Wizard.
The Activation Wizard generates verification data primarily based on information about hardware in the computer. In Windows XP , information about the following ten categories of hardware is included: .
Every time a PC is booted, Windows XP checks the hardware configuration against that which existed at the time of installation.
From the above list, six or more items must change for the reactivation to be required. The position is complicated in that the network card MAC address is regarded as three items. Therefore, if the network card is not changed, a change to six or more other items will trigger a reactivation.
If the network card is changed, then just three other changes will trigger a reactivation. PCs that are considered dockable are treated more leniently as hardware will, by definition, regularly change. A dockable PC is one that is equipped with a docking port that connects to an expansion unit that features extra ports or hardware these are usually ancillary units custom designed for some laptop PCs.
A dockable PC is allowed three extra changes beyond a non-dockable PC before reactivation is required. The verification data is also based on the product key entered during activation. In some cases, the product key is checked against a list of known illegally distributed keys. Certain retail copies of Windows and Office sold in certain countries classified as emerging markets have geographical activation restrictions, which only allow the user to activate the product within the indicated region.
In Windows 7 and later, significant hardware changes e. Motherboard may require a re-activation. If activation completes successfully, the user can continue to use the application without any further issues or impediments. Also, if the key gets blacklisted, the application will continue to run as normal unless a clean install and activation is performed after its key has been blacklisted. The following tables illustrate the usage of product activation throughout Microsoft software, specifying whether the programs can be equipped with retail or volume licensing activation as well as geographical activation restrictions.
A personal licence is re-activated on a new machine by logging in to office. While Microsoft says that product activation benefits consumers by allowing Microsoft to produce higher quality software,  it has nevertheless received much criticism regarding its design and implementation, effectiveness at stopping piracy and respect of privacy rights. For instance, during the development of Windows XP, beta testers strongly criticized the introduction of product activation, particularly because a change in computer hardware required re-activation.
Cyrus Peikari and Seth Fogie, security consultants, considered product activation to be “hostile both to privacy and to human dignity.
Others defend Microsoft’s use of product activation. The group concluded by stating that users of genuine Microsoft products ultimately receive superior performance while counterfeit users are susceptible to security issues and lost productivity. Microsoft Product Activation has also been criticized on multiple occasions for violating patent law. Microsoft Product Activation has been cracked or circumvented on numerous occasions since it was introduced in In , a UK security company called Bit Arts successfully managed to bypass product activation on Windows XP,  while in , volume license keys for Windows XP were leaked to the public, allowing users who had not purchased a volume license to the operating system to bypass activation.
In , a circumvention measure was developed for Windows Vista by warez-group Paradox that simulates the BIOS, allowing leaked SLP information to be fed to the operating system, bypassing activation. The following Microsoft products other than Windows, Windows Server or products from the Office family use activation: . From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page.
Learn how and when to remove these template messages. This article relies too much on references to primary sources. Please improve this by adding secondary or tertiary sources. April Learn how and when to remove this template message. This article needs to be updated. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. January DRM mechanism used by Microsoft. The Tech Herald. Archived from the original on Retrieved Microsoft Docs.
Appendix B: Licensing Conditions. Retrieved 3 January Windows Activation. Retrieved October 1, PC World. Retrieved August 13, Categories : Windows technology Windows components.
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