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by Mike Zazaian October 4, 2006 - 12:31pm, 6 Comments

Pirated Vista Copies Will Run in Reduced Functionality Mode

Microsoft has announced that pirated copies of its upcoming Vista operating system will lock users out of core functionality if the software isn’t activated.

Dubbed Reduced Functionality Mode, the new feature will be an extension of Microsoft’s existing Windows Product Activation software. Vista’s users will be given 30 days to activate their version of Vista, either activating online or calling Microsoft by phone. If at the end of the 30 days the product hasn’t been activated, Vista will only function in Reduced Functionality Mode.

And while Microsoft has taken steps to limit piracy with its Windows Genuine interface, Microsoft’s Reduced Functionality Mode is a measure unlike any they’ve taken. While un-activated versions of Windows XP would simply annoy users with constant reminders to activate, Reduced Functionality Mode will make Vista all but unusable once the thirty-day activation window is eclipsed. Microsoft described the dynamics of Reduced Functionality Mode in a recent press release:

By choosing Access your computer with reduced functionality, the default Web browser will be started and the user will be presented with an option to purchase a new product key. There is no start menu, no desktop icons, and the desktop background is changed to black. The Web browser will fully function and Internet connectivity will not be blocked. After one hour, the system will log the user out without warning. It will not shut down the machine, and the user can log back in. Note: This is different from the Windows XP RFM experience, which limits screen resolution, colors, sounds and other features.

In addition Microsoft has said that Reduced Functionality Mode will disable the use of Aero, Vista’s sleek, glassy interface. Copies of Vista in the Premium or Ultimate trim level will see even further lock-down, with features such as ReadyBoost performance enhancements and Windows Defender antispyware detection being shut off completely.

And while the goal of the new feature is to lock software pirates and counterfeiters out of Vista, there’s no guarantee that users with genuine copies of the OS won’t be inconvenienced as well Microsoft stated in the same release:

Customers will be able to easily determine the status of their Windows Vista installations. In the System Properties panel of the Windows Vista Control Panel, Windows Vista will display the genuine status of the installed copy of Windows Vista. From there, and from any screen notifying users of a failed validation, a user will be able to obtain more information on why the copy of Windows is not genuine, as well as resources for getting a genuine copy.

Note that Microsoft phrases the above as why the copy of Windows is not genuine, rather than whether. By not giving the benefit of the doubt to consumers a number of harmless Vista users could encounter the Reduced Functionality at the fault of Microsoft, not themselves. And while Microsoft insists that most customers should never be affected by having a non-genuine installation, it’s certain that some quantity of harmless Vista owners will be wrongly shut out of the OS by overly aggressive anti-piracy measures.

The most absurd part of the whole charade is that Microsoft knowingly benefits from the circulation of pirated Windows copies. By extending its installed user base through piracy, Microsoft also broadens the appeal of software designed specifically for Vista, ultimately strengthening both software sales and overall Windows dominance. The fact that they’re taking such rigorous anti-piracy measures seems hypocritical, as the new features seem more like an overall inconvenience rather than a block on piracy.

It remains to be seen exactly how Reduced Functionality Mode will affect Vista, but if nothing else the feature is indicative of why Vista’s release has been delayed almost three years. It seems as though Microsoft could produce a stronger final Vista product if the development team spent more time increasing system performance or resolving bugs rather than implementing bizarre security measures such as this.

Microsoft has said that it will likely extend the properties of Reduced Functionality Mode into other next-gen software suites, naming Office 2007 as a likely candidate. Both Windows Vista and Office 2007 are due out at the beginning of next year, hitting shelves on January 30th, 2007.

[via ZDnet]