Vista dry run

by Volker Weber

The Windows Vista Ultimate Element

Microsoft sent me a copy of Windows Vista Ultimate and I installed it in a VMware machine yesterday. The installation was uneventful. Everything just worked. First impressions: It's prettier than XP, in a too colorful way though. The thing is though that you get bored pretty quickly. Hey, it's only an operating system. You need it to run real software, and I don't have anything which would require Vista instead of XP.

29 days from now it will expire. Yes, I have a legit serial but if I blow it on this installation, I cannot use it when I really need it. That is the big difference to any other operating system I own. When I re-installed Mac OS X Tiger on my iBook, I did not need to "activate" it. It was active from the start. The same goes for Windows Professional 2000 which runs my accounting software. You install it, yes you have to enter an annoying serial number, but it will never fail you because it is not "activated". The same goes for my Ubuntu image.

What are your thoughts about this? Are you intimidated by this activation theme?


In previous products from MS, the block on activating times out after a certain length of time, doesn't it? I never had any problems re-activating via the internet when moving XP or Office to another machine when I (or friends that I have helped) have moved to a new machine. Do you mean you are planning to use Vista "real soon" or is there no timeout on the Vista activation-blocking?

If the later, that really sucks.

But as you are always telling us, DRM is bad for the customer, and activation is also a form of DRM. For me, the potential problems with activation of Windows software - not only for MS products - are a reason to use OS X or Linux. The last thing you need, if you have a problem, is to run into activation issues while you are trying to fix it.

John Keys, 2007-03-06

Activation often makes it easier and more appealing to use hacked bootloeg copies. The Microsoft Activation makes the installation process for paying customers difficult, awkward and frustrating leading to a dissatisfying service.

I wrote something about my thoughts a little while back:

Boy do I hate Microsoft Activation

Carl Tyler, 2007-03-06

Couldn't agree more Carl. I have a fully legitimate copy of XP Pro which I need to re-use regularly when re-building my Parallels Windows machine. It now takes much longer to go through the phone activation process (as it won't activate over the internet any more for some reason) than it does to goes to a wares site and get a moody serial number.

I still do it properly because I paid for the software but it does wind me up every time.

Matt White, 2007-03-06

Same Thoughts, looks really nice and fresh. But all i get is a slower machine with many Incompatibilities to already installed and pretty working Software instead of new interesting Features. I activated one of my Licences and tested it on a Notebook, but meanwhile installed XP again....

No need for it at the Moment. I think, Microsoft should work on Vista the next Time, otherwise Vista will be named Windows Flopda...

Jürgen Gabel, 2007-03-06

You can make that 30 days 120 days quite legally, you know.

All it takes is entering in a simple command (slmgr -rearm) at a command prompt with administrative privileges. You can do this up to three times, so if you do it on day 30 each time, you get the initial 30 days plus 3 more 30 day periods - 120 days in total.

However, activation is badly broken as implemented in Vista. There are plenty of stories out there of legitimate and already activated Vista installs suddenly requiring activation again. It wouldn't be half as annoying if it could be counted on to work reliably...

Chris Linfoot, 2007-03-06


Vista is different from XP. It will go into a "buy a proper serial" mode refusing to work if it thinks it is not properly activated after the 30 day trial period.

Microsoft tries to solve a problem they have with China. You can only sell a site license to China. Once they have an properly installed or installable copy of Windows, they install it on every single piece of hardware they produce. Much like Wordperfect was dominating the market in South America with five copies sold. The whole "genuine advantage" scheme tries to block the serials being used on thousands to millions of Windows copies.

With Vista Microsoft tries to go an extra mile to make sure you have a copy of Windows for every single machine you have, and possibly also for every reinstall you make. IIRC the EULA also wants to block you from removing Vista from one machine and moving it to a new one.

There are two parties who cannot live with this scheme: big enterprises and OEMs. For XP there was an enterprise version that did not require activation, and this is the only proper way to run XP. Just ignore the proper copy you bought and install an enterprise version if you can get hold of it. It is a much much better product since it is not crippled.

Now that Microsoft does not want to have an enterprise copy for China, they have built activation servers for big customers, where the deployed Windows machine have to reactivate after a certain timeout. If you go back to your days as a CIO of one such enterprise you can imagine the type of headache this incurs for a distributed organization.

Then there are OEMs who want to sell pre-activated machines. On those Vista looks for information in the BIOS which will tell it that it is running on one such machine. As reported yesterday this scheme has been broken by a driver which lies to Vista about the BIOS.

Volker Weber, 2007-03-06

Well, I think I'm approaching 30 days with Vista.

I'm underwhelmed.

Is it worth it ?

Put it this way, my next machine will be a MacBook.

---* Bill

Bill Buchan, 2007-03-06

First of all: meanwhile there's a way (german only) to avoid the activation issues. Just a note, not a "how-to" to bypass the activation!

Second: even large customers refuse (german only) to upgrade to Vista because of compatibility concerns.

Vista seems to be the first flop for M$ ever. Neither copying from other software nor simply buying other software vendors will help them. With their market power they can force the installation of Vista, simply by making Vista incompatible to any other software. But that will brake their neck, too

Let's see how M$ will fix this problem...

Ralf Stellmacher, 2007-03-06

And ironically, UserFriendly is running something on Vista right now.

I especially like yesterdays "clue brick"...

---* Bill

Bill Buchan, 2007-03-06

Time for a new poll ?

Don Rorlach, 2007-03-06

vowe, thanks for that explanation - I hadn't realised that the activation was so different from XP, nor that corporate users are being compelled to reactivate.

John Keys, 2007-03-06

I don't think it's fair to say it is the "first flop for MS ever". Admittedly, most of their flops do seem to get canceled before release, but not all. Remember "Bob"?

Richard Schwartz, 2007-03-06

I havent tried it myself, but IIRC you dont see all new features when running Vista in a VM.

Urban Hillebrand, 2007-03-06

Urban - yes - you have to have a machine which scores at least 4 out of a possible six before the new sexy UI starts to work.

Take my Dell XPS Gen-2 Gaming Laptop. 18 months old. A monster. Only scored 4.

So Vista - think about at least dual core, at least 2gb of ram, at least 20gb sacrificed to the O/S. Which wont really work on a 60gb laptop hard drive..

---* Bill

Bill Buchan, 2007-03-06

MS will get real much Probs in selling this Product. I have to install what about 500 Machines, every one manually "activated" ?!

No, no never. Wrong Way, Microsoft. Manfred Dillmann told me to change to OSx. Seems to be lucky, seems to Work. I will do, my Customers will follow....


Jürgen Gabel, 2007-03-06

The activation thing is crap. But, for Volker: Microsoft Germany has a special activation phone number for journalists testing Vista on lotsa machines.

Detlef Borchers, 2007-03-06

I think the MS Vista (and Office) Activation is good:

1) It must be good for Microsoft, otherwise Microsoft wouldn't do it.

2) I'm quite sure it's good for non-MS alternatives like OpenOffice, Google Docs, Apple Macs, Linux, etc: As soon as people are forced to pay for MS-ware, the will consider alternatives.

Sander Jonkers, 2007-03-06

read it on a spanish blog: In the near future, all professional users will use the home edition in the office (for price reasons), while private persons will use (hacked) ultimate versions (for obvious reasons).

Why don´t they implement an "activation counter" that resets every time when a bluescreen appears (as appeasement policy) and gives you one time without having to activate?

Debugging hardware is a pain in the behind, troubleshooting includes regularly tasks like taking out all cards/memory, exchanging it until some obscure configuration works.... What the hubble does Microsoft want to know every time when some equipment does not work with the system?

Apart form all that: There´s a scheme in which one pays for a year and gets a bucketfull of activations free. Recurring income for MS, that is, but still better than anything else, I guess, if you want to avoid the constant contact with a company you have no affiliation with except than being a tormented user of their snafu system.

Armin Roth, 2007-03-06

Thanks for the explanations Volker.

To clarify one thing, the initial EULA limited the full (non-upgrade) retail version of Vista to only one move (first computer to second). Beyond that, a new license was required. Unbelievably restrictive. MS relented on that point.

However, a really strange term remains in place: the EULA specifically bans Home versions of Vista from being a guest in a VM. Only MSDN subscribers are authorized to run Home / Home Premium as a guest OS. I understand they wouldn't want to support Home users with VM issues, but to ban it? Just another example of Vista's focus on DRM over enabling paying customers.

Rod Stauffer, 2007-03-06

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