Over the last few weeks, we've seen a number of attempts at workarounds for Vista product activation. As of now there are at least two distinct workarounds that have worked to some degree, but I'm sure there are more on the way. One of these workarounds we have affectionately named "frankenbuild" because it involves cobbling together files from an RC build and with an RTM build to create a hybrid that bypasses activation. The other workaround involves the use of some virtualization technology and our practices for activating larger business customers.
For me, it's an interesting moment. We've been investing a lot of resources into continuously evolving our approach to piracy. One of the key "pillars" we focus on is what we call the Engineering pillar - this is essentially the body of work that shows up in the products themselves (as opposed to policy or education efforts). With the release of Windows Vista we're putting into place a number of new anti-piracy innovations. And with these first work arounds we're getting to see those innovations in action.
I thought it would be useful to walk through what our plan is for the "frankenbuild" systems.
Windows Vista will use the new Windows Update client to require only the "frankenbuild" systems to go through a genuine validation check. These systems will fail that check because we have blocked the RC keys for systems not authorized to use them. In other words, the wrong key is being used. The systems will then be flagged as non-genuine systems and the experience will be what we announced back in October (direct link to doc)- including losing certain functionality (e.g. Aero, ReadyBoost) and the system will have 30 days to activate with a good product key. If they don't produce a new product key within 30 days, they will then only be able to access their system in what we call reduced functionality mode - a mode which limits their use to one hour with their default web browser. I want to be clear here that even though they can only use their browser for an hour, we will never limit their access to their data. A user can always -boot their PC into what is called Safe Mode. Safe Mode is a mode of using Windows that has limited driver, display and networking support - but allows a user access to all their files.
We hope that this action will help get the message out that pirating Windows Vista will have real consequences and will, in turn, encourage people to check before they buy.