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Product: Windows XP Professional Beta 2
Company: Microsoft
Estimated Street Price: N/A
Review By: Stewart Saathoff

Product Activation

Table Of Contents
1: Introduction
2: Product Activation & User Switching
3: Miscellaneous Features
4: Networking Features
5: Conclusion

Let’s talk about a little thing called “Product Activation.”  A LOT of people have been complaining about it.  This is a feature that Microsoft has put in Windows XP that forces a user to log in to Microsoft and Register their copy of Windows XP.  Most administrators have complained about this because they say that they do not want to have to “run around to every computer that gets installed and register it.”  Well, don’t worry.  You have 14 Days to activate your version of Windows.  (30 in the final release)  Are you still upset?  Don’t worry about it.  Microsoft has provided two entries that can be added to an unattended text file, or SIF file in RIS, that will enable you to not have to deal with this at all. 


First, let’s talk about the way product activation works.  When a system is first installed, it receives a unique system ID, like a SID, but different.  This ID file is matched with the Product ID that you specify and the result is a registered copy of XP on one single machine.  If you are familiar with Windows NT’s ProductID field in the Unattend.txt file, it doesn’t work anymore.  Actually I found out that it doesn’t in Windows 2000 either one day while I was doing a contract job.  I was showing the client how easy it is to customize RIS images with SIF files to deploy images of Windows 2000 Professional.  Unfortunately, the ProductID key failed continuously.  After looking at a document on unattended file parameters, I saw something different called ProductKey.  There was no harm done though.  I laughed it off and told the client that “You can’t know everything.”  Fortunately they were forgiving and now they love RIS in Windows 2000.  Back to XP, there is a parameter that you will have to enter in your unattend.txt file to have XP activate itself with Microsoft.  It is called AutoActivate and it will connect to the internet automatically to register the copy of XP after the system has been updated.  If you are behind a Proxy Server a parameter called ActivateProxy can be used.  If you are planning on using SysPrep to create images, then be sure not to activate your source machine, that way all client installations will register on their own.


What about the actual installation interface?  Well, if you’ve ever setup a Windows 98 or ME machine, that pretty much sums it up.  The interface is almost identical to that, with different icons.


User Switching


Let’s start with something that everyone likes to show, the logon screen.  In my screenshots, I’ll use my name and my brother Steve’s name.  Here’s a picture:



At the time that this screenshot was captured, I was connected to the Internet and downloading something while installing Office XP.  I was connected using the MSN Explorer, which is a nice little add on to XP that is reminiscent of the AOL Browser, except for the fact that it still allows you to use a different browser while you are connected.  If you’re not clear on what I am trying to say, connect to the Internet using AOL, and try to open IE.  Now, I had walked away from my computer to buy some razors and toothpaste from Wal-Mart and when I came back this was on the screen.  So out of curiosity, I went digging around to see if this could be disabled and stumbled upon this:



Notice the little check box in the screen saver.  If you check this box, it will show the Welcome screen, so that you could switch user profiles.  If you walk away from your computer and the screen saver activates, when you move the mouse, the logon/switch user screen appears.  What is “Switching a user” you may ask?  Well, Windows XP supports the ability to have multiple users logged on to a system without having to log off and log back on.  How is this practical?  Well, think of this, someone walks away from their computer for a while and you need to get to your information.  In previous versions of Windows, you would have to log off, then log back on as your username.  This would cause the existing user to lose all of his or her unsaved information.  Now you can switch to your user profile, check your email, and when the other user comes back, they can simply switch back to their profile and continue working on what they were doing before you came along.  Note: If more than one user is logged on, all of the applications will consume system resources.



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