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Activate Windows\windows\system32\oobe\msoobe.exe

The copy protection scheme in Windows XP (see Figure 4-4).

To Open

Start Settings Activate Windows

Command Prompt \windows\system32\oobe\msoobe /A


Product activation is a new and somewhat controversial feature in Windows XP. Intending to curb software piracy, Microsoft now requires that each installed copy of Windows XP be activated. This involves contacting Microsoft, either over the Internet or with a telephone call, to obtain a special key to unlock Windows. If Windows is not activated within a certain period, it will expire and refuse to load.

Figure 4-4. Once you've activated Windows XP, you probably won't ever need to again

The sequence of steps to install and activate Windows is as follows:

  1. During the installation of Windows, type the 25-character CD Key provided with the Windows XP installation CD. The CD Key distinguishes one end-user license of Windows from another.

  2. Windows then generates a 20-digit product ID based on the CD Key and the Windows version.

  3. You, the user, transmit the "Installation ID," comprised of the 20-digit product ID plus an 8-digit hardware ID, to Microsoft. The hardware ID, a unique number based on values obtained from hardware in your computer (see below), distinguishes one computer from another.

  4. Microsoft responds with a 42-digit Confirmation ID, which is fed into Windows to activate it.

  5. Since the confirmation ID is based upon the unique CD key and the unique hardware ID, it represents a single, unique system. If someone attempts to activate Windows with the same CD Key and a different hardware key (representing the same copy of Windows being installed on more than one computer), the copy protection will kick in and the product activation will fail.


  • The Hardware ID is based on a hardware hash, a long sequence of numbers based on a information found in your computer's hardware. The specific devices used are as follows:

    • Display adapter (video card)

    • SCSI adapter (if available)

    • IDE adapter

    • Network adapter MAC address (if available)

    • RAM amount range

    • Processor type

    • Processor serial number

    • Hard drive

    • Hard drive volume serial number

    • CD-ROM, CD-RW, or DVD-ROM

  • In theory, you should be able to upgrade one or two of these components without causing a problem. However, if you replace the motherboard or upgrade several components at once, the hardware ID will change significantly. Since Windows XP compares the confirmation ID against the hardware ID every time Windows is started, a change in the hardware ID will probably void the activation, and you'll have to reactivate Windows.

  • It probably goes without saying that the automated activation will probably fail at this point, meaning that you'll have to speak with a Microsoft representative and explain that you're merely reinstalling and not pirating the software. It remains to be seen how much hassle reactivation will be; those who upgrade often will bear the brunt of that hassle.

  • If a virus attacks or your computer crashes and you're forced to format your hard disk and reinstall Windows, you'll have to activate Windows again. However since the hardware will probably not have changed, there should be no problem.

  • Aside from the hassle involved, the primary focus of the controversy lies in the process by which Microsoft gathers information about users' hardware configurations and how they monitor subsequent alterations. Although Microsoft insists that the online activation is benign, you may want to stick with the tedious telephone activation procedure to be on the safe side.

  • Many users may not be confronted with product activation at all. Systems purchased with Windows XP preinstalled may be preactivated as well, in one of two possible ways. Either the manufacturer may choose to activate Windows using the method described above, or by a separate mechanism called System Locked Pre-installation (SLP). SLP ties the hardware ID to the system BIOS, rather than the discrete components listed above. The resulting system may be upgraded more freely, but if the motherboard is replaced or the BIOS is upgraded, the owner will have to reactivate windows as described above. The other exception is the version of Windows XP sold with a volume license, usually to large businesses, which doesn't include the product activation feature at all.

See Also

"Fully Licensed WPA Paper" at http://www.licenturion.com/xp/

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