In an effort to curb pirating of software, Microsoft has implemented an installation control feature (first debuted in Windows XP) called Activation. After the initial installation of a product, such as Windows Server 2003, Microsoft grants you a 30-day period within you must contact Microsoft and activate that product. If you fail to activate the product, on day 31, the product will no longer function. In fact, the only activity you can perform from that point on is to perform the Activation. After a product has been activated, it functions normally.

The activation process requires that a 50-digit code be generated for your computer system. This code is unique to your system and is used to associate your product key with your computer system. If any other computer attempts to activate the same product key on a different computer. Microsoft will think you've pirated their software or at least attempted to install it on another system without purchasing another package. The gotcha to Activation is this computer ID, which is generated by pulling unique IDs from 10 different parts of your computer, including your motherboard, CPU, and hard drives. If you change six of these parts, the system thinks you've changed computers, and your activated status will be terminated. You have to re-contact Microsoft and explain that you've only upgraded your existing system and that you're not just installing the product onto a completely new second system. Can we say major headaches ahead?

Activation can occur over the Internet, in which case it takes only a few seconds. Activation can occur also over a phone line, whereby you must read off the 50-digit computer ID to the customer service representative and he or she will read you a long confirmation key you have to type in.

To activate your system, you can click on the reminder pop-up bubble that appears over your notification area (previously known as the icon tray or system tray), which is right beside the clock. Until you activate, the operating system will remind you every day or every time you log on about activating. You can initiate the activation process also by launching the Activation Wizard found in the Start menu. It appears in the top-level menu initially; after you activate, it appears only in the All Programs—»Accessories—»System Tools section.

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