Windows 7 customers enjoyed a 30-days grace period before the operating system prompted them to activate their copies. Microsoft even allowed users to install Windows 7 without a valid product key – the product key could be entered during activation. Additionally, the company included a secret rearm method that could prolong the grace period up to 120 days. This essentially made every Windows 7 retail copy an evaluation version enabling users to try out the product (by borrowing the installation disk from their friend, for instance) before they decide to purchase. Now Computerworld reports that the activation grace period has been eliminated in Windows 8 retail that is scheduled to hit stores on October 26.
Users installing Windows 8 is required to enter a unique 25-character alpha-numeric product key in order to even proceed the installation. Failure to do so stops the process in its tracks. Microsoft used the same technique with the Consumer Preview and Release Preview, although Microsoft provided users a generic key for these.
After installation, Windows 8 automatically connects to a Microsoft server, provided the machine is connected to the Internet, to verify the legitimacy of the entered product key. If the key is valid, then Windows 8 is activated. If the key is deemed not valid, then the typical non-genuine ritual kicks in: the desktop background fades to a permanent black, on-screen messages remind the user that the operating system is illegitimate, and the PC shuts down every hour.
Consumers purchasing new PCs with Windows 8 will have the OS pre-activated at the factory, so the product key/activation steps are only seen by users who upgrade to Windows 8 from an older edition, or those who install Windows 8 on a freshly formatted hard disk.
Windows 8 Enterprise, the version aimed at companies with volume license agreements, uses an entirely different mechanism for activation. These machines ships with a Key Management Service (KMS) client key that's activated by a local machine. Enterprise copies downloaded from TechNet and MSDN subscription services uses the Multiple Activation Key (MAK) method that connects with Microsoft's activation servers.
So what happens if a user want to evaluate Windows 8 before purchasing? For that Microsoft offers a special copy of Windows 8 with 90-days evaluation period. This edition can be installed without a product key, but unfortunately, cannot be upgraded to the full version once the user decided to buy a license. This means that the user must start from scratch, and thus lose all their customization and settings, if they decide to purchase a license after trying out the evaluation version.
By employing stricter activation policies, Microsoft is trying to make pirating Windows 8 difficult, but at the cost of annoying legitimate consumers. Pirates on the other hand will have no problems obtaining an illegal copy. There are already reports of a Russian hacker successfully bypassing activation and workarounds that allows Windows 8 to be installed without a product key exist.