Microsoft removing 'kill switch' from Windows Server 2008

Matching Vista move, reduced-functionality feature won't be used in new server OS

Lost amidst Microsoft's announcement on Monday that it will relax an antipiracy mechanism in Windows Vista was the news that the company plans to drop the same "kill switch" from its upcoming Windows Server 2008 operating system.

In early versions of Windows Server 2008, Microsoft has been testing a reduced-functionality-mode feature, similar to the one already built into Vista, that is designed to render an operating system unusable if a customer doesn't activate it with a valid software license key within 30 days of installation.

But Microsoft said this week that it plans to deactivate the reduced functionality mode in the Service Pack 1 update for Vista, even while it beefs up other features aimed at blocking users from activating counterfeit copies of Windows.

The software vendor will also remove the reduced functionality mode from Windows Server 2008 when it releases that operating system in the first quarter of next year, according to a posting Tuesday on the Windows Server Division WebLog by Julius Sinkevicius, a Microsoft product manager.

Instead, as with Vista SP1, users with copies of Windows Server 2008 that haven't been activated will get "clear and prominent notifications" that their software needs to be activated, Sinkevicius said.

The harshness of the reduced functionality mode has been criticized by users and analysts, partly because of claims that Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), Microsoft's activation and validation service, has mistaken legitimate users for software pirates -- contentions that Microsoft has said are overblown. In addition, a software upgrade snafu caused WGA to fail validation checks on legitimate Vista and Windows XP users during a 19-hour period in August, a meltdown that prompted Microsoft to take a series of steps aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future.

In his blog posting, Sinkevicius also confirmed that as part of Microsoft's new Software Protection Platform technology, large corporate users of Windows Server 2008 will no longer be using WGA to activate their software. Instead, they will utilize one of the activation methods that Microsoft supports via its Volume Activation 2.0 tools.

Those options include a key management service (KMS) that is designed to be installed and run on corporate servers, and multiple activation keys (MAK) that can be used to activate a preset number of Windows licenses via the Internet. The KMS technology is aimed at large customers, while smaller ones are expected to use the MAK approach.

Volume Activation 2.0 replaces Microsoft's first generation of volume activation software, which involved issuing a single volume license key for each product, no matter how many copies of the software a company planned to run. Moreover, those keys didn't need to be checked against a Microsoft server to validate installations of the software. That made the keys easier for pirates to get a hold of and redistribute.

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Eric Lai

Computerworld
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