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Software Craptection Platform: The Empire Strikes Back

On the picture above, you can see Bill Gates during happier days, or at least, what he thought were happy days. As you may be able to recall, Gates posed for that picture when Windows XP went gold. That was, as you can see on the picture, 62 days before the launch of Windows XP. Microsoft had introduced their Product Craptivation software in Windows XP, which would require all retail licenses to be activated online or by phone. The idea behind it was that it would make it more difficult for people to make and distribute copies of the software because every key could only be activated on a single PC.

But a little more than a month before the official launch date, a warez group called Devils0wn managed to get their hands on a volume license copy of Windows XP including a volume license key which didn’t require activation, and distributed it on the Internet. Along with that, they released the picture above. As you can see, the word “warez” was “embroidered” on Gates’s shirt, the CD was labeled “Devils0wn XP.Corp” on the wrong side and they changed the release date to “NOW!” which was August 29, 2001.

Because of Devils0wn, people all around the world were able to “eXPerience the launch” more than a month earlier than officially planned by Microsoft. Most people can probably still remember the FCKGW key that it was distributed with, and which was blocked later in Service Pack 1 for Windows XP.

By the release of Service Pack 1 however, a tool was released which you could use to generate new working volume license keys for Windows XP. And so Microsoft had problems once again. That was probably when they decided that Product Craptivation was not enough anymore, and they went on to unleash something called Windows Genuine Crapvantage onto the world. Now all of a sudden, you couldn’t download certain software (updates) anymore unless you validated your copy of Windows XP. And during that process, they could actually check if the key that was used for a Windows XP installation was one that existed in their database of released keys. This means that volume license keys which were generated by others would not validate.

Windows Genuine Crapvantage has since been hacked countless times, and has since been updated by Microsoft countless times in response as well. I totally lost track of how many times, and it’s probably still ongoing.

With Windows Vista Microsoft is going to introduce a whole new set of validation software which they have collectively called “Software Protection Platform,” and which I will further refer to as “Software Craptection Platform.” This new software platform, used to craptect (very technical term) other software, is basically Product Craptivation and Genuine Crapvantage thrown together, with some extra salt and pepper and possibly some other code which was just lying around on some developer’s PC at Microsoft. Some experts are speculating that they needed this extra code, which is of no value to the user, to help fill the DVD image to a certain size for unknown reasons.

Anyway, here’s what Software Craptection Platform is supposed to do:

Under the new plan, counterfeit copies of Vista will not run the Aero interface, the OS’s much-touted updated graphics look; will disable ReadyBoost, a feature that lets users add memory to systems by plugging in a USB flash drive; and will cripple Windows Defender, the anti-spyware protection tucked inside Vista. Previously, Microsoft had said it would strip some features, including Aero, from non-genuine Vista, although Defender was not among those mentioned.

Product activation, which debuted in 2001 with Windows XP, but is now part of Software Protection, will also be dramatically revamped. If a copy of Vista is not activated within 30 days, the operating system will only let the user run the default browser, and then only for an hour at a time before logging off. Legitimate copies that for some reason later fail the ongoing validation tests will have another 30 days to re-activate or purchase a new license before the PC slips into what Microsoft dubbed “reduced functionality,” while copies detected as fake during the validation process will also be downgraded after 30 days. In addition, users of genuine Vista must reactivate within three days of “a major hardware replacement,” said Microsoft, or face a crippled computer.

Wonderful. Simply wonderful. And this time, they’re making sure Devils0wn can’t do what they did with Windows XP again:

Microsoft will also extend activation and validation to enterprise volume license users for the first time with Vista, said Hartje, and require them with Windows Server “Longhorn,” the server software follow-on. “One of the big holes we’ve had [in our anti-piracy efforts] is in our volume keys. It’s a very open process, with the keys in clear text and easily stolen and misused,” Hartje said.

Volume licensees will be required to manage keys and run activation using one of two services, KMS (Key Management Service) or MAK (Multiple Activation Key), with the former targeting shops with more than 25 machines that are always connected to the organization’s network. MAK, on the other hand, is similar to the retail product activation keys, and lets one Windows PC connected to Microsoft to vouch for multiple machines.

It just gets better and better. The things users aren’t going to have to put up with. And then they go on to say:

The crackdown, she said, is necessary to protect users and Microsoft’s OEMs. “We need this to protect consumers and partners. Consumers want to make sure they get what they’ve paid for.”

That’s a big lie, and they know it. Consumers could care less about Software Craptection Platform. This is not about protecting users, it’s about having more control over users, and ultimately about making more money. How else will they reach the 20% in the first year adaption rate they want for Windows Vista, of which analysts say that’s “almost impossible”?

Windows Vista is Microsoft’s product, and they can ofcourse do whatever they want with it. However, I do think that they’re making things more difficult in the end for the users, and this time, including the corporate users who will now have to deal with setting up “key management.” They’re going to really enjoy that, I’m sure. On top of that, the prices for Windows Vista are also absurdly high, and there is no compelling reason to upgrade to it. Perhaps if Vista became what Gates promised us during PDC 2003, I’d want to pay $400 for an Ultimate license. But not as it is now. Maybe that’s why they need Software Craptection Platform. To ensure they can get more people to actually buy a license, because they fear selling less than Windows XP.

In any case, it’s going to be interesting to see what the pirates and hackers are going to come up with. Can anyone achieve the status with Windows Vista that Devils0wn achieved in 2001 with Windows XP? Any group able to do that, would no doubt be worshipped and achieve some kind of super 1337 status and be made immortal. I hope to write a post called “Software Craptection Platform: The Empire’s Strike Hacked” before January 2007. Or maybe even before December 2006.

These are exciting times.

Update October 6, 2006: It seems legitimate volume license customers of Windows XP are being locked out by Windows Genuine Crapvantage this week because of an issue at Microsoft. Imagine what Software Craptection Platform will be capable of. And to quote Microsoft:

“We need this to protect consumers and partners. Consumers want to make sure they get what they’ve paid for.”


  1. Karel Donk » Archive » Windows Vista Prices too High (03/12/2006)
  2. Karel Donk » Archive » Software Craptection Platform: The Empire’s Strike Hacked (09/12/2006)
  3. Karel Donk » Archive » Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection (25/12/2006)
  4. Karel Donk » Archive » Windows Vista a Disappointment (30/01/2007)


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