Microsoft spells out Windows 7 activation nags, limits

Beta turns desktop background black if not activated, shuts off some updates

Microsoft will turn Windows 7's background picture black and put up persistent notices on the screen if users don't activate the new operating system, a company manager said Monday.

Windows 7 beta, the public preview Microsoft launched January 10 but has since stopped offering, exhibits much of the same behavior as Windows Vista if it is not activated within 30 days, said Alex Kochis, the senior product manager for Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program.

"If you do not activate the software within the grace period, you will receive persistent notifications, including a message from the system tray every 60 minutes that reminds you to 'Activate Windows Now'," said Kochis in a long entry to the WGA blog. Also on-screen, he said, is a permanent notice that the copy of Windows is "non-genuine," Microsoft's term for pirated or not-yet-activated versions of the operating system; a similar message appears whenever the user launches the Control Panel, which houses Windows' settings and options.

"While you can change the plain black background to any background you choose, if changed, the background will reset to a plain black background every 60 minutes," noted Kochis. "Also, you will not be able to receive optional updates from Windows Update unless the copy of Windows is properly activated."

Several of those on-screen elements -- notably the black desktop and the always-onscreen non-genuine warnings -- are shared with Windows Vista, which was revamped with Service Pack 1 (SP1) to soften the impact of not activating the OS. Before SP1, Vista used a so-called "kill switch" that dropped the operating system into what Microsoft called "reduced-functionality mode," in which nothing worked except for the Internet Explorer browser, and then only for an hour at a time.

Other bits, however, appear to be new to Windows 7, including the non-genuine notice that pops up when the Control Panel is launched and the blocking of some updates.

Kochis also spelled out the warnings that Windows 7 puts in front of users as the 30-day grace period slowly shrinks. If the user doesn't activate within the first three days of use, for example, a message reading "Activate Windows Now" and the number of days remaining appears in on the Windows 7 taskbar.

A pop-up asking the user to activate appears daily through the 27th day, said Kochis, at which point it switches to an every-four-hour schedule until the final, 30th day, when it changes to an hourly timetable.

Although Kochis did not mention it, others have noted that like Vista, Windows 7 can be run for up to 120 days, not just 30, without activating the operating system by using the same "slmgr -rearm" command that gained notoriety after Vista's debut. Several blogs have posted instructions on how to use this legal method to extend the life span of Windows 7, including "My Digital Life."

Kochis noted, however, that nothing is set in stone. "The beta isn't necessarily the final experience that will appear in the released product and that based on feedback some of the specific elements of the product activation experience could change," he said.

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