Product Activation

In August, our column on Windows XP explored some of the basic aspects of the operating system's layout and graphical interface. This month, we're going to explain as well as take you through the vital process of Activation.

WHAT IS IT AND WHAT DOES IT DO? The Activation feature in Windows XP is a process that unlocks the operating system and allows it to be used only on the hardware configuration on which it is currently installed. It "is used as an anti-piracy tool and Microsoft has described it as a "process that may serve to educate customers about the terms of their licence agreement". That is, it is meant to stamp out the copying and borrowing of the operating system among friends or co-workers, for example.

According to Microsoft, it is a completely anonymous process in that it does not send any information to the company that can identify you or your individual hardware components, such as makes and models, nor does it scan your hard drive. It does, however, generate a hardware ID that makes note of the features of your setup, such as memory and disk size, CPU speed and BIOS version. This helps XP keep track of your system. Reportedly, it does allow for typical modifications, so hard drive, memory and optical drive upgrades should not require re-Activation. However, major hardware overhauls, such as a motherboard upgrade, will require re-Activation, which must occur over the phone with customer support. Likewise, a disk format will require you to re-Activate your product, but more on that later.

It's important to note that this is not actually a form of registration. You may register the operating system if you wish, which will require you to submit personal details, and this is done to ensure that you are informed of product updates and special offers.

When you first install Windows XP, you are given a grace period of 30 days to Activate the operating system, with reminders popping up every so often in the system tray. After the 30 days is up, you will no longer be able to run the system without Activating - it is mandatory.

HOW DO YOU ACTIVATE? There are three ways to Activate the operating system. The first, and the most efficient, way is via the Web. You can do this by connecting to the Internet and then navigating through to Start-More Programs-Activate Windows. A dialogue box will pop up from which you simply click on Next and then Finish. It is a very simple process that requires no further user intervention.

The second method is via a phone call. This can be made during the installation process, which will prompt you, or you can choose to do it after you've installed the system. Microsoft will provide a 24x7 toll-free number, which is handy for users who don't have access to an Internet connection. By following the above method, the program will dial out and connect to the Activation server automatically, again Activating your software without any user intervention.

If you don't have a modem, don't worry. In the third method of Activation, simply click on the Telephone button that will be displayed on one of the ensuing screens, select Australia from the drop-down country list, dial the number on the screen, and you will be able to Activate XP over the phone (toll-free) by talking to customer service. You will be required to read out the product ID that appears on your screen, which is 50 digits in length, at which point you will be given a return code that you will have to enter in the space provided.

After Activation, the icon that once sat atop the program's menu will disappear, and any subsequent execution of the Activation program from the System Tools program group will simply tell you that it is not required.

WHAT ABOUT SYSTEM FAILURES? More often than we'd like, our operating system seems to succumb to the wrath of an evil third-party application or immature driver program that renders it useless and requires the re-installation of the operating system or, in a worst case scenario, the re-format of the hard drive. Although Microsoft claims that you can re-install XP as many times as you like without re-Activating, I found that in the two cases I tried it, I had to once again go through the Activation rigmarole.

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