Trials and Tabulations

While I worked at Phil's office, I noticed the same icon for a trial version of a program installed on each of his staff's computers. I remembered how frugal Phil was. (Frugal is the nicest possible word to describe Phil's financial perspective.)

I joked with Phil about his apparent love of the program. He said, "The trial version has expired on all the office computers except mine." He then smiled with a great deal of pride and invited me to have a seat in his office. He told me his story of "beating the system" while I pitied him in my head. I saw a sheet of paper on his desk with a list of handwritten CD keys -some crossed off in pen. I didn't want to know where he got them.

Phil had been using this "30-day trial" program for months. He downloaded and installed it on one computer. 29 days later he installed it on the second computer, and so on, until he had enjoyed seven months of free software. Whichever staff member sat at the computer with the non-expired program was the person who used it for the company that month. Finally, on his own computer Phil turned the computer's clock forward to 2012 before installing the program -hoping he could score five years of free use of the 30-day trial software. His scheme didn't work. And for the payroll he wasted running from computer to computer, he could have purchased a license for less!

Phil is the reason software activation was invented. Software activation protects software manufacturers by ensuring that the software is used only on the computer to which it is licensed. Most new commercial software requires activation after installation or it won't run.

Internet activation doesn't send personal info stored on your computer. Instead, most activations involve sending encrypted data based on your computer's unique hardware to an activation server. The server sends back a code that allows the software to continue to operate.

Windows XP's activation looks for the presence of ten physical parts of your computer to limit your copy of Windows to your computer. These parts include: The video adapter, SCSI adapter, motherboard, network adapter, memory amount, processor type, processor serial number, hard drive, hard drive serial number and CD/DVD drive.

After successful activation, Windows checks the computer's parts at each startup. A "vote" is counted when an original part is still installed, or missing part is still missing since activation. Some computer parts carry more weight than others. For example, the network adapter counts for three votes, while sound cards don't get to vote. If Windows XP doesn't get seven votes, it won't run -it assumes it is on a different computer.

120 days after the last activation, the slate is wiped clean and you can install Windows XP on new hardware, but you'll need to reactivate and the voting process begins again.

Software activation is easy, quick and nearly transparent to most people who purchase legitimate licenses. But if the idea of activation bothers you, then there's always Phil's way -if you have lots and lots of computers.

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