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FAQ: Microsoft kills Vista 'kill switch'

All you need to know about Vista SP1 activation

What prompted the change?

Kochis said customers, primarily corporations and other large-volume users of Windows, told Microsoft they wanted something different.

"We did a lot of research with customers before RTM [release to manufacturing, a development stage met in November 2006], most of them consumers and small businesses," Kochis said.

"A lot of that research pointed us toward what WGA is now, and RTM was consistent with what we heard from those users. Following Vista's release, we started to get feedback from large customers about the [activation and validation] experience, especially recently. As those kinds of customers focused on Vista deployment, we started getting more feedback."

What kind of feedback?

Kochis wouldn't get specific, but when asked if by feedback, he meant enterprise customers had told Microsoft that they were unhappy with the current behaviour of Vista or that they would not implement it with the reduced-functionality and non-genuine modes, Kochis' response was simple.

"Yes," he said.

So, the August meltdown of Microsoft's validation service had nothing to do with the decision?

Users bad-mouthed Microsoft's antipiracy policies long before Vista's debut - in July 2006, it was bashed for phoning home daily to company servers - but tempers flared hottest in last August when thousands of users' copies were pegged as pirated because of a server outage at Microsoft.

It would be natural to make a cause-and-effect connection between that incident and this week's announcement. Wouldn't it?

Not according to Microsoft, which denied any connection. "Actually, it wasn't the reason," Kochis said. "It didn't relate at all to the decisions or affect the feedback from customers."

When will the changes be made?

Vista SP1, now scheduled to release in final form in the first quarter of 2008, will include the new activation and validation after-effects.

Although Vista SP1 has been in testing for weeks and a release candidate version (RC1) will be made available to anyone who downloads it next Tuesday, the changes won't be implemented in any pre-final version, Kochis confirmed.

The modifications will be added to every version of Vista, in all languages, and will be part of the operating system delivered worldwide.

Any surprises?

Microsoft will also include fixes for a pair of activation hacks - Kochis called them "exploits", although there is no evidence that they infect a machine with malware - when it changes activation and validation in SP1.

What hasn't gotten much play in the press, however, is that Microsoft is also adding another update component to Vista so it can deliver fixes for any future hack. Kochis again used security terminology, dubbing the fixes "signatures".

"SP1 will natively disable two [activation] exploits," Kochis said, "and we will provide new updates in the form of signatures that will enable the same sort of behaviour."

Those new fixes, Kochis said, will be delivered via the usual update mechanisms of Windows Update, Microsoft Update and the Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) add-on to Windows Server.

Users will be told of all such "signatures" updates, and will have the opportunity to decline them, Kochis said. (The question was prompted by several WSUS and Windows Update snafus this autumn, including overrides of IT administrators' settings and a behind-the-scenes update to Windows Update that users weren't told about.)

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