New technology to protect Windows Vista and other products

This morning Microsoft announced a new set of technologies that will be included in the RTM of Windows Vista and Windows Server codenamed ‘Longhorn’ that are designed to prevent piracy of Windows Vista as well as the next release of Windows Server.  The technology collectively is called the Software Protection Platform (SPP).  Though SPP is much more than just anti-piracy technology, I will focus in this post mostly on what it will do to protect Windows Vista from piracy and what are the key changes from the Windows XP experience customers might see.

From an anti-piracy point of view the enhanced protection from the new technology manifests in two areas: Windows Product Activation and the ability to reserve certain features of Windows Vista for genuine and licensed copies.  I’ll explain the basics of each.

When it comes to product activation most users will experience no noticeable difference between Windows XP activation and Windows Vista activation. This is because when most users purchase PCs with a Windows operating system the OS is pre-activated.  The improvements made in the product activation for these kinds of systems are primarily in increasing the security and accuracy of the process.  With Vista, there is improved activation security for OEM, Retail and Volume licensed products.  Of course, as with XP, product activation is required for Vista, and failure to do so in a certain period of time will result in the copy of Vista being placed in a Reduced Functionality Mode (RFM).  Typically the timeframe is 30 days and throughout that period notices are given to users of the system that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. When the notices are presented because product activation is required, users are offered the following four options:

1. Activate their existing product key
2. Access their computer with reduced functionality
3. Retype their newly purchased product key
4. Show other ways to activate.

When the notice appears because the system has been identified as counterfeit, non-genuine or unlicensed, the option that is presented is simpler and is to “Go online and resolve now.”

As I mentioned, Volume Activation will also change as a result of the SPP technology.  Activation of each Enterprise or Volume License Business machine will be required, but for many businesses they will be able to activate their client installations using an in-house service that has no direct connection to Microsoft. Another method for activating volume licensed copies of Windows would be through a process that is more like the retail activation where a system activates against a Microsoft hosted service.  The new system will offer increased protection for volume license keys and provide flexible deployment options for businesses that use volume licensed copies of Windows Vista. 

When it comes to reserving features for genuine and licensed copies, SPP also includes a set of technologies that are used to determine whether a copy of Vista is genuine.  When the SPP technology detects an invalid or tampered product key, it will place the copy of Vista into a non-genuine state which will disable a number of features of Windows Vista, including Windows Aero, ReadyBoost, and others.  To fix this a user must activate or re-activate the system and revalidate.  In this state, some product features will be disabled.  That said, we want to make it apparent to the user that their PC experience is different – it will not be the same experience as the one for persons using a genuine version of the software.

For details on these changes see the announcement and whitepaper (direct link) that we released this morning.