Saturday, April 01, 2006

Software Licensing and the Windows Repair Install

In early 2002, I decided that I was going to clean-up my computing habits and get rid of all the illegal (or cracked) software I had installed on my home computers. There were two reasons for this decision; 1) I had just changed careers from Quality Assurance to Software Development, 2) product activation and license validation was becoming more and more prevalent.

To make a long story short, I was down to my last ill-gotten copy of Microsoft Windows XP Professional running on an old laptop that used occasionally for odd test and development work. This was one of the infamous "corp. editions", which is a installation CD with a volume license key (usually purchased by large companies) and requires no activation.

Along comes Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage program around the middle of 2005. Now, there was a lot of uproar over this new program from Microsoft and piles of misinformation. Basically, users wishing to remain compliant with Microsoft's licensing policy would have to validate their operating system before they could continue receiving non-critical updates and other free product downloads, such as the Windows Defender Beta2 (formerly the Anti-Spyware Beta). The truth is that, as a test, I ran the WGA validation check on my laptop and sure enough, it failed. That's it. I could continue to download and install criticial security updates, but there were no black Microsoft helicopters or jack-booted enforcers coming to punish me for illegally using Microsoft Windows XP. All of my office and development software installed and worked as expected and Windows Components (e.g. Internet Information Services 5.1) could be added from the "cracked" CD with no hassles.

I've had a extra valid license for Windows XP Professional SP2 for some time now, but today was the first chance I had to apply it to my laptop. There are two ways to accomplish this; 1) a clean wipe of the laptop hard drive followed by a fresh install with the legal copy of Windows XP or 2) a repair installation of the existing Windows operating system.

The latter of the two options was the most appealing because I did not want to go through the hours of work required to reinstall and reconfigure all my application and development software. I also took a great deal of time stripping down the Windows installation (i.e. minimal graphics, security, etc) because it is only a 500Mhz Pentium III with 256 MB of RAM. So, I decided to follow the instructions posted on Michael Stevens' web-site. In addition to the low system specs listed above, I'm also running a compressed volume on the laptop to increase my total disk space.

I can report to you that the in-place repair install worked flawlessly and that Michael Stevens' instructions are spot on. All of my minimalist settings were preserved, all my applications are working including Windows Components such as IIS 5.1, and the new installation activated over the Internet in seconds. I no longer have a single software application installed in violation of the manufacturers license agreement.

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