Sunday, February 18, 2007

Win XP Authenticated

I broke down and telephoned to reauthenticate my Win XP license for Joey. After it was authenticated, I see part of the problem was the various motherboard drivers (like Ethernet) were not installed yet so WIN XP was NOT able to authenticate via the Internet. Hmm, I wonder if everyone who installs a new MoBo on a system protected by the "Genuine MS Advantage" tool now has to telephone a Microsoft tool-free number .. boy, that will cost Microsoft an arm and a leg. The last time I hit this under XP i was given 30 days to authenticate - a shame XP didn't atleast give me 24-hours ... but it just won't allow me to log in or run in safe mode even so I had no way to finish installing motherboard drivers.

In fairness, I talked to a pleasant guy named Ahmed with a strong but understandable south-asian accent. It took me perhaps 5 minutes in total - but I did it at 10pm on a Saturday night. I read him my 36-digit magic code and he gave me another 36-digit magic code to enter. Of course his first question is "Have you installed this software on more than one computer?" I said no, but that I had just installed a new motherboard & CPU and he pretended to gracely understand that situation. Of course, I know that I am careful about owning correct licenses, after all I am a programmer who expects to be paid for my work ... how can I pretend Microsoft programmers should be forced to work for free? But sadly this is the kicker - I know I am "good", but what did Ahmed-of-Microsoft think? What FBI-ish reports are now in my computer file? It reminds me of the memorable 1970's experience of being a 17-year old virgin and buying your first pack of condoms from the 60+ year old lady at the drug store ... that disapproving look you feel she gives you but she says nothing. (By the way, being the serious nerd I am I really didn't need such things until I was 23 ... but then teenage males are not known for being overly realitic, are they! :-)

What pushed me to reauthenticate was, 1) well I owned the license, and 2) my other XP and 2K systems saw the 250GB SATA drive with unauthenticated XP on as being unformated. There was no valuable data on there - other than a nicely tuned & working system. I seriously just considered reformating and moving ahead. I am still a bit shocked the Windows XP would or could do this. Keep in mind this 250GB driver has (or was supposed to have) two distinct partitions: a 60GB for a boot drive and the rest as extra space. I do this since it is a WHOLE lot easier to find 60GB of free space for an emergecy backup than to find 250GB of space just laying around unused! I won't have been so surprised if just the boot drive was hidden ... but for the entire drive to appear to be a single unformated partition? Why couldn't another XP system at least tell me I had 2 partitions? Looks like I'll be using Ubuntu Linux to create my Windows partitions from now on - i really do want them distinct and not "virtual".

I need to look into this further - is a very worrying "trick" by Microsoft if true! The moral equivalant of a copy-protection worm to destroy your hard disk if copy-protection tampering is detected. Several copy-protection companies have been bankrupted after the slightest rumor of such irreversable slaughter got out. I remember the Lotus 1-2-3 scandel - way back before Windows existed. An executive of the company (was it called ProLok maybe?) that made the Lotus 123 5.25 inch copy-protected diskette mentioned causually in an interview that they were researching the idea of adding a worm to the diskette that would destroy the hard disk data if it detected that the diskette was an almost (but not quite) perfect illegal copy. Man, the crap hit the fan fast. Everyone was saying, "Well what if a legal diskette makes a mistake and thinks it is a copy?" Literally, ever major Lotus 123 customer demanded either confirmation that such a worm didn't already exist in the Lotus 123 diskette or they demended some OTHER brand of diskette be exchanged for existing ones. Lotus123 dropped this supplier and moved to another.

So if Microsoft is really putting such a "worm" (not really a worm, but effect is the same) into Win XP (or Vista) such that an authentication failure makes the hard disk appear unformatted, what is the risk of false positives? Suppose today at work you come in, try to log in and get the "unable to authenticate" error. Moving your hard drive to a new system isn't going to work, since the Vista authenticates to the motherboard details. But should the drive mounted as a slave also be unusable?

This inability for one XP computer to read the SATA drive from another is indeed very worrying. I'd understand if I had asked XP to encrypt the drive ... but I didn't. I have too little faith in computers to trust an encryption scheme wholesale like that.

By the way - take a look at this article in PC-Mag. It covers 78 free software tools:,1895,2090951,00.asp


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