Despite being the most advanced version of Windows yet, Vista allows surprising freedom for casual pirates to run unauthorized copies of the new operating system. Last month, Global Tech News detailed a procedure in which a user may extend his activation grace period on any installation of Vista up to 120 days, up from the 30 days out-of-the-box.
Brian Livingston of Windows Secrets has taken that trial-extending procedure to the next level through with some tinkering of the Registry. The “slmgr –rearm” command run on any version of Vista will reset the grace period countdown back to 30 days, a maximum of three times for a total of up to four months. Newly uncovered is a Registry key that could give up to eight more 30-day trials on top of the three Rearms for as much as a year of non-activated Windows Vista usage.
The specific Registry key is named “SkipRearm” and is found in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWARE MicrosoftWindows NTCurrentVersionSL. By default, the SkipRearm Registry value is 0, but changing it to 1 will allow the Rearm command to be run “an indefinite number of times,” thus extending the grace period.
While unscrupulous software users may use this to avoid buying a genuine copy of Windows, the SkipRearm method by itself is legitimate. Microsoft’s TechNet site details the feature: “Rearming a computer restores the Windows system to the original licensing state. All licensing and registry data related to activation is either removed or reset. Any grace period timers are reset as well.” Setting the Registry value of SkipRearm to 1 negates any intention of Rearming, but, for some reason, it works to extend the number of times the command may be issued.
The Rearm and SkipRearm features are part of Sysprep, Microsoft’s tool used by administrators to prepare an installation of Windows for imaging or delivery to a customer. An important note on Microsoft’s TechNet documentation on Sysprep reads, “If you anticipate running Sysprep multiple times on a single computer, you must use the SkipRearm setting in the Microsoft-Windows-Security-Licensing-SLC component to postpone resetting the activation clock. Because you can reset the activation clock only three times, if you run Sysprep multiple times on a computer, you might run out of activation clock resets. Microsoft recommends that you use the SkipRearm setting if you plan on running Sysprep multiple times on a computer.”
Livingston presumes that these apparent loopholes in Windows Vista activation exist to ease the burden on corporate IT administrators, who may have to activate thousands of machines upgrading to the new operating system.
On a test of copies of Vista Ultimate and Vista Home Premium from January, the “slmgr –rearm” command worked three times and the SkipRearm key worked eight times for upwards of a year of non-activated Windows. On a copy of Vista Home Premium purchased in March, however, SkipRearm had no effect on extending the use of “slmgr –rearm” at all, suggesting that Microsoft has quietly released an updated version into stores. Livingston believes that business editions of Vista—Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate—will still support the Sysprep commands for their legitimate IT uses.
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