Windows Vista and Windows Longhorn Server (Windows Server 2008) feature and incorporate expanded version of Windows Product Activation (WPA) technology in the effort to reduce piracy and illegal counterfeited version of Windows. The new technology, called Software Protection Platform (SPP) will disable key Vista features for non-genuine installations. Another program called Microsoft Volume Activation 2.0 meanwhile will help corporations and businesses to manage and activate Windows with volume license keys (VLK) in order to protect those distributed volume-license product keys from pirates. The Software Protection Platform and accompanying technologies will incorporate into all versions of Windows Vista and Windows Server Longhorn initially, with other Microsoft products such as Microsoft Office Systems will use the platform to some extent.

In Windows Vista and Windows Server Longhorn, users will have to activate their copy of Windows within 30 days. Within these 30 days, users will be reminded to active the Windows product. Users activate the Windows Vista by supplying a valid product key, or using other options such as buying a product key online or obtain the key and perform Windows activation by using phone instead of Internet. Another choice users have is to step down the Windows Vista to operating at “Reduced Functionality Mode”. Anyway, if you purchase your PC or notebook with Windows Vista installed from companies such as Dell, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and Gateway, the Windows Vista operating system comes installed and activated, requiring no further action from end-users.

So what will happen in Reduced Functionality Mode (RFM)? In Reduced Functionality Mode or “ugly mode”, customers that use non-genuine or unlicensed versions of Windows Vista will not have an enhanced set of features that customers that use genuine, activated and validated Windows Vista product can expect and get. Among the features disabled or restricted in pirated Windows Vista RFM are:

  • Enhanced Windows Vista interface “Aero” will be disabled.
  • ReadyBoost which allows usage of flash memory to improve system system performance will be disabled.
  • Only partial functionality of Windows Defender will be available.
  • Extra optional downloads and updates from Windows Update will be unavailable, with the exception of critical security updates.
  • Unable to download from Microsoft Download Center.
  • Installed applications, such as Microsoft Office, will be disabled.
  • Ability to use and operate web browser (i.e. Internet Explorer) for just one hour before session been interrupted and been forced to log out without warning, although user can login again.
  • Unable to directly open documents from the computer desktop, although access to documents on the hard drive are still permitted.
  • No start menu.
  • No desktop icons.
  • Desktop background color is changed to black.

In short, if you choose not to activate your Windows Vista by choosing “Access your computer with reduced functionality”, the default web browser will be launched and gives the user with an option to purchase a new license product key. The web browser is fully functional with full access to Internet, and that’s all about it. You can do whatever you like on Internet (except of course on Microsoft websites). This allows only minimal use of the OS until it is validated. And, every 1 hour, you will get interrupted to log-in again.

Beside, unlicensed and unvalidated copy of Windows Vista will have one additional feature that will display a persistent statement or notification message in the lower right corner of the desktop space that contains the message “This copy of Windows is not genuine”.

If you successfully active your Windows Vista, congratulations, but don’t be happy yet. With Windows Vista, the activation isn’t permanent. Even if a genuine code is entered, Windows Vista will check the product key anytime in order to check against any tampering, including when other Windows software is installed, with Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA). WGA will continually monitor the status of the user’s activation product key. If WGA decides that the Windows installation is no longer valid, counterfeit or non-genuine, or the product key has been blocked due to product key has been abused, stolen, pirated, seized as a result of anti-piracy enforcement efforts, is disabled beta or test keys, has manufacturing errors in the keys or if the keys have been returned, users may be asked to reactivate their copy of Vista again, and will be granted another 30 days to verify their installation.

However, WGA will not lock the system into full reduced-functionality mode or the “read-only” lockdown mode as mentioned above if activation has been completed once. Instead, only Aero, ReadyBoost, and Windows Defender will be disabled, and a persistent onscreen notification notice about non-genuine of installed version of Vista is displayed above notification area (system tray).

Another component of Software Protection Platform is Microsoft Volume Activation 2.0 which is a policy-based utility to helps corporations and businesses who are using volume license keys (VLKs) for Windows Vista and Windows Server Longhorn to protect, deploy and manage their distributed volume license keys in managed and non-managed environments. Previously, VLKs that are stolen, or associated with theft, leakage and illegal use are publicly available, and if it happens again on Windows Vista, users can use the VLK to active Vista one to prevent reduced functionality or install copy of Windows Vista that don’t have to be activated. With Windows Vista, corporations using VLKs will have to activate using either a Multiple Activation Key that allows a limited number of activations, or a Key Management Service running on a Windows domain which will require periodic reactivation.

Another change for licensing method of Windows Vista to make cracking and hacking of pirated Windows Vista harder is on OEM suppliers who buy bulk licenses of Windows. Compared with previous practice where a single universal activation is provided so that OEMs can use on unlimited copies, where the key was stored unencrypted on a server and subjected to stealing and theft, whereas now a unique key is used for each copy of the Windows Vista OS.