Microsoft won't require businesses that deploy Office 2007 to activate the suite, the company said Tuesday in an updated document on its Web site.
Unlike the retail versions of Office 2007, copies installed using volume license keys -- the typical way large organizations purchase Microsoft's software -- will simply skip product activation, the process where keys must be entered and judged legitimate.
As with earlier editions of Office, the 2007 version will use what Microsoft dubs "Volume Activation 1.0." VA 1.0 also is the procedure used to install Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 in businesses. "The 2007 Microsoft Office system will continue to use product keys that bypass product activation," Microsoft said in the online document.
"So Office 2007 is using the old way of activating," said Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, "which is really no activation at all."
Retail copies of Office have required some form of activation -- an anti-piracy program intended to cut down on counterfeits or copies that use stolen volume licensing keys -- since the 2000 edition. Office 2007 continues that practice, although it slashes the grace period in half to 25 launches from Office 2003's 50. Copies of Office pegged as fake downshift into a reduced-functionality mode that only lets users view and print documents.
The no-activation scheme of Office in the enterprise contrasts with Windows Vista, which will require product activation in businesses. In October, Microsoft announced that the new operating system would use a "Software Protection Platform" that would for the first time add activation to volume licenses.
"One of the big holes we've had [in our anti-piracy efforts] is in our volume keys," Cori Hartje, the director of Microsoft's Genuine Software Initiative, said then. "It's a very open process, with the keys in clear text and easily stolen and misused."
Vista Business and Vista Enterprise -- the two editions most likely to be deployed in companies -- will use what Microsoft called "VA 2.0" for product activation. Under that program, companies will choose between two mechanisms to manage keys and activate the operating system: Key Management Service or Multiple Activation Key. The former targets shops with more than 25 machines that are always connected to the organization's network, while MAK is similar to retail activation and lets one Windows PC connected to Microsoft vouch for multiple machines. Systems activated using KMS must reactivate at least once every 180 days.
"The problem I have [with Software Protection Platform] is we have no history on how KMS and MAK perform," said Michael Cherry, another Directions on Microsoft analyst. "We don't know what the failure rate is in running them. If the rate is low, and once it's set up, the burden to the customers isn't significant. But if the rate is high, there will be an increase in calls to the help desk. That's an expensive transaction to the business."
At the same time, said Cherry, it's not surprising that Office 2007 shunned Vista's enterprise activation. "There are two sets of dependencies here. First, the Office team didn't want to depend on Software Protection Platform being done. And second, they didn't want it to depend on being a Vista user to use Office 2007.
"They need a solution that works across Windows XP as well," said Cherry. Software Protection Program works only on Vista.
Although it's possible Microsoft could change that at any time, he added, by migrating the new activation/validation technology to the older operating system. "They do move newer technologies to older versions of Windows when it suits their purpose. And licensing would suit their purpose.
"I absolutely support their right to protect their software," concluded Cherry. "But how much of that burden can they shift to the customer? To me, it's still all about solving Microsoft's problems, not the customer's."
Microsoft didn't immediately respond to a request for additional information and comment on its Office 2007 activation program.