Microsoft removes Windows 8 grace period, inconveniences everybody

Microsoft has removed the activation grace period from retail editions of Windows 8, potentially inconveniencing many users in the process.

By now, I suspect many of you have read that Microsoft has eliminated the activation grace period from retail versions of Windows 8. With its newly minted OS, Microsoft is forcing users to enter a product key during the installation, as was the case with Windows XP. With Windows 7, users could install the OS without entering a product key and take the OS for a spin for up to 120 days. The initial grace period was only 30 days, but a simple—and legal—command line tool gave users the ability to reset the timer up to 3 times.

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As a freelance technology journalist that has to install Windows dozens of times each month on an ever-changing array of hardware, I found Windows 7’s activation grace period invaluable. It allowed me to legally install and use the OS for testing purposes, without ever having to deal with Microsoft’s activation system. In the Windows XP days, if you didn’t have a legit volume license key, after activating the same key a few times on new hardware, the key would no longer automatically activate via the web. Instead, you’d have to call Microsoft’s customer service line to manually complete the activation process. Microsoft wasn’t particularly stingy with the activations (in fact, they never denied any of my numerous requests over the years), but the manual process was a time-consuming pain in the neck.

Microsoft hasn’t explained why it removed the activation grace period from Windows 8. In a ComputerWorld article, author Gregg Keizer claims that Microsoft declined to comment when asked to explain the reasoning behind the changes. The article quotes an unnamed MS spokesperson as saying, "We have no information to share." Microsoft may not have any information to share, but the move is most likely an attempt to curb piracy, which it will not do.

One of the more popular types of cracks for Windows 7 is a tool that will indefinitely reset the OS’ activation timer. What makes this type of crack popular is that no hacked or patched files need to be installed and the OS remains genuine as far as Microsoft’s update servers are concerned. All patches, updates, etc., will install as if the OS has been freshly configured, and users don’t have to worry about an activation crack potentially being flagged by Microsoft or any anti-malware tools. Eliminating the activation grace period is likely Microsoft’s way of thwarting the reset tools that would most likely have been created for Windows 8.

The problem is that nefarious hackers will ALWAYS find another way. There are dozens of ways to bypass Windows 7’s activation technologies; Windows 8 will likely face the same fate. So, ultimately, removing the grace period will only serve to inconvenience honest users who are constantly being screwed by fallible DRM schemes. Want to install Windows 8 Pro in a virtual machine to give it a try before jumping in feet first? Have your product key handy. Need to install Windows 8 briefly on an array of systems to evaluate performance and compatibility? You’ll need your product key then, too. And each time it’s installed, it’s going to automatically hit MS’ activation servers if a live connection to the web is available.

On the flipside, Microsoft has released a trial version of Windows 8 Enterprise, which will work for 90 days and likely appease many users who need to experiment with the OS. But for folks like me, the grace period’s removal is going to be a real pain. There are workarounds, of course, but the inconvenience could have been avoided.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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