Office 2010 can be used for up to 180 days without providing a product activation key, Microsoft confirmed today.
Although Microsoft generally touts a 30-day time limit for users to activate their copies of the company's software, including Windows, a little-known command designed for corporate administrators can be used by anyone to "reset" the Office 2010 countdown up to five times.
The company confirmed that a short command, which is documented on its TechNet support site, resets the activation timer in Office 2010, which officially launched Wednesday but won't reach retail shelves until June 15. Companies with volume license agreements can get Office 2010 now.
Microsoft typically allows users to install and run Office or Windows for up to 30 days without requiring a product activation key, the 25-character string that proves the copy is legitimate. During the 30-day grace period, the software works as if it has been activated. As the grace period shrinks, however, messages appear on the screen reminding the user to activate the product.
In Office 2010, the messages change on the 25th day after installation. At some point, the Office 2010 title bar also turns red.
But by running a file named "ospprearm.exe," users can reset the time-until-activation to 30 days. The file is located in the folder "%installdir%\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\OfficeSoftwareProtectionPlatform," where ""%installdir%" is "C:" on most machines.
The technique, dubbed "rearm" as a nod to the command used in Windows, can be used up to five times. If users perform the rearm at the end of each 30-day period, they can run Office 2010 for a total of 180 days without having to supply an activation key.
According to a Microsoft spokeswoman, who replied to questions via e-mail, the rearm feature is aimed at enterprise administrators who use a single copy, or "image," to deploy a supported operating system and accompanying software on hundreds or thousands of PCs.
As IT administrators prepare the image, however, the activation clock continues to tick down. By the time the image is copied to a company machine, the counter may have reached the point where the activation messages appear.
"Say you have another 500 computers you want to deploy six months from now," the Microsoft spokeswoman said. "You want to use the same image [as before]. The problem here is that Office is smart enough to know that you [first] installed Office in May, but now it's November. So when users first boot up Office, they see the red title bar telling them they haven't activated. This is not a good user experience."
Rearm lets administrators build the image, then as a final step, reset the activation grace timer. "Now, whenever the administrator has new computers coming in, he can just deploy that image. When users start Office for the first time, the grace timer begins, and users have 25 days before they get a dialog telling them they're not activated."
The TechNet support document that explains rearming Office 2010 says much the same thing, though in much denser prose.
According to a recent entry on the "My Digital Life" blog, the rearm command works on the RTM, or "release to manufacturing" build that Microsoft used to produce the final copies of the suite.
Although Microsoft has yet to launch Office 2010 at retail or offer it to consumers, it has posted a free 60-day trial of Office Professional Plus 2010 on its TechNet site. The company has also hinted that it will post trial versions of one or more retail editions this summer after Office 2010 goes on sale.
Trial versions, including the one now available, come with limited-time activation codes. The trial of Office 2010 Professional Plus requires an activation code immediately, and cannot be installed without one. By entering the free activation code provided prior to downloading, and then declining to automatically activate Office, users will end up with a copy that is not activated.
Presumably, the trial copy's lifespan can then be extended using the rearm technique. Computerworld was not able to verify that, however. It's unknown whether future trial editions of Office 2010 will also demand an activation code before installation.
Microsoft seems resigned to the fact that rearm can be used by people other than IT administrators. "We allow five rearms for volume products," the company's spokeswoman said. "Of course that can be abused to let people use Office for longer periods of time without being nagged, but that's an acceptable trade-off."
Previous rearm techniques have regularly been reported by technology sites and bloggers. Last August, for example, the Windows Secrets newsletter published step-by-step instructions on using a single-line rearm command to add an additional 90 days to Windows 7 's stock 30-day grace period.
Two years before, a similar technique surfaced for extending Windows Vista's grace period to 120 days.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com .
Read more about desktop apps in Computerworld's Desktop Apps Knowledge Center.