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Vista's "Reduced Functionality"

Vista to user: No computer for you!!!

One of the machines I used to test Windows Vista, a Gateway laptop, booted into this screen several days ago. Vista had determined that it hadn't been installed legitimately and locked the computer into what Microsoft calls "reduced functionality" mode--in which you can either type in a valid product key or run Internet Explorer (so as to buy a new Vista license at Microsoft's site).

How Vista came to this conclusion was not clear. The Gateway laptop didn't have the company's standard configuration; Gateway's PR department had put a stock install of Vista on the thing. But Vista had not alerted me of any problems prior to flipping into the "reduced functionality" pay-up-or-else mode. (What a great phrase that is! The operating system didn't kneecap the machine, it merely "reduced" its "functionality.")

Anyway, Gateway's publicists had no idea how this could have happened either, so the only thing I could do was ship the laptop back to the company and let their folks figure it out.

My guess: Somebody put the same copy of Vista on too many machines, which Microsoft's activation servers discovered when the laptop's copy of Vista uploaded a "product key" already associated with another computer. (Here's Microsoft's explanation of how Windows determines if it's legit; one of the developers of the Windows validation software also maintains a blog on this topic.)

Has a copy of Vista locked you out of your PC? How do you feel about knowing that your computer's looking over your shoulder like this? The comments are yours...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 9, 2007; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Windows  
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Next: MASN on Dish? Maybe...


"How do you feel about knowing that your computer's looking over your shoulder like this?"

I feel it's yet another reason why I'm not going to buy a computer with this OS loaded or if I do, it will be immediately removed and replaced with something that doesn't, I don't know, suck so hard?

Posted by: Cleo | February 9, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Time to buy a mac and skip the ridiculous low-jack style of tracking that microsoft has going...exceedingly lame.

Posted by: Michael Gong | February 9, 2007 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I have been a longtime Mac user, and when I heard that I could run either Mac OS or Windows on my new MacBook, I was delighted. No more worries about compatibility-I could run whatever software I wanted!

However, when I got the MacBook, I bought XP to use it on. That's what I used on my dinosaur ThinkPad, and that's all I needed for this. I see no compelling reason to upgrade, and if all these problems are taking place, those are semi-compelling reasons _not_ to upgrade.

Posted by: Eric LaRue | February 9, 2007 2:07 PM | Report abuse

This one of the reasons I've started using Ubuntu Linux. I sure won't be buying Vista.

Posted by: Matt | February 9, 2007 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Vista's newest technology is developed to protect and promote (a) Microsoft, and (b) the RIAA. Most all new 'security' capabilities are designed for these two constituents, solely. Further, as far as protecting the computer asset itself, MS has delegated that responsibility to the end-user - hence the 100s of "Accept or Cancel" messages.

Yes, this will lead users - including myself - to abandon MS for Apple/OS-X!

Posted by: Tom | February 9, 2007 2:10 PM | Report abuse

I'm no microsoft fan, but how else are they supposed to protect against piracy? There's no way to determine who has the valid security key, so it's going to tell everyone with it that theirs is invaled.

To be sure, they could implement this better. Perhaps they could tell you that hte key is invalid, and that in five (10?) days you will get reduced functionality. That gives you a reasonable period to sort out the problem.

Posted by: ah | February 9, 2007 2:16 PM | Report abuse

What scares me, is that in a couple years this kind of behavior by the OS will be viewed as perfectly acceptable. Thankfully I wont have to be bothered by it. I use a Mac (going on 6 years now) and if someday Apple ever goes under I'll switch to Linux. I simply can't understand why people still use Windows. I don't even use other M$ products, Safari/Firefox are far better than IE - and Open Office does everything I ever needed to do in M$ Office.

Posted by: chris | February 9, 2007 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Exactly the reason I installed Ubuntu on my computer.

Posted by: Roy | February 9, 2007 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I am a long-time MS OS supporter and a Microsoft Certified Trainer in their Server OSes. And I'm an unabashed foe of Vista because of this Spyware aspect of it.

Does anyone remember how Microsoft catapulted itself to software dominance in the early 80s? It was by being the only major player to remove all software protection schemes from its offerings--no dongles, no per-machine passwords.

I think I'll be sticking with XP Pro for a long time to come. After that it's Linux or OS-X.

Posted by: Dan | February 9, 2007 2:28 PM | Report abuse

The whole "reduced functionality" mode is just Microsoft's way of saying "look - you haven't properly activated your OS. If you don't, we won't hold your files hostage, but we won't let you use a lot of the OS either." Far better than not letting you even boot.

And the same thing happens if, upon installation, you just fail to put in a product key. (Vista will work for 30 days before it needs to have the product key entered and activated)

Posted by: Another Chris | February 9, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse

The issue of piracy is making Microsoft angry over the extra million being added to that treasury of billions. Apparently the never ending people not wanting to spend an insane amount of money on new hardware to run a new OS that you just 'have' to buy, makes them unhappy. Being raised on pc's I have never liked Macs but at the rate Microsoft is heading, which could be best described as off a cliff, I am ready to remove windows and stick to Linux, or just buy a Mac once and for all.

Posted by: Echuu | February 9, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Microsoft has lost their innovation, likely to google, etc. They keep looping on the same products, bloating them.

How about something totally new for a change, Bill? Can't you & your minions think outside the box, just a little bit?

Or is your dump there in Redmond so mechanized nobody with a single creative neuron would want to work with you anymore?

Posted by: mark | February 9, 2007 2:30 PM | Report abuse

what a suggestive question Mr. Rob Pegoraro is putting on us... i love the wording of it. How do i feel about my computer looking over my shoulder? Well... what computer DOESN'T look over my shoulder would me more appropriate. The bank, the airline, the train line, the credit card company, the police, well... everyone!!!! So would it really matter that my own computer is looking over my shoulder? Well, not really...
Now some of you hardcore privacy donkies would argue that it isnt the same thing... that i may be out of my mind, that i'm comparing apples to oranges. Sadly though, you, the donkies, and me, the arse, would be correct.
It boils down to what level of privacy invasion you're willing to live with. Personally I think taking my shoes of is a level of privacy invasion i am not prepared to accept. I do it because I have no choice. But of all the things to be concerned about, having Microsoft check to make sure you paid for their &^*%@ is hardly one of concern!
Yea... and this coming from someone who before Vista NEVER PAID FOR ANY MICROSOFT OS!!! Vista... i paid for. No, I didn't suddenly grow a concience, I was just lazy to go through the millions of steps to get the time trial crack. Happy? Now go get some privacy invasion complain forms and file them right along with the "I WANT TO BE MORE SELFIMPORTANT" complaint.

Posted by: devis | February 9, 2007 2:33 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Devis: Rob should stop with the "push polling" his readers. I recently bought a laptop with Vista installed, and it works well. It's definitely a step up from XP SP2.

Posted by: Robert* | February 9, 2007 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Vista is pretty much just XP SP2 propped up to look like a mac. Too bad its such an immense I/O pig.

Posted by: Crackhoe | February 9, 2007 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I cannot but help feeling a bit more discouraged each time some 'function' is developed by Microsoft which really boils down to 'spyware'. It is frustrating that the company has a monopoly on business PCs and software; I am forced as a businesswoman to use these products, whether I want to or not. I understand Microsoft wanting to protect and benefit from software development, but it is irksome that I don't have a choice about use of the product. I'm stuck with it, and with the Big brother attitude of the company, until enough folks get tired of the heightened scrutiny and complain to our Senators and Congressman with enough vehemence to prod some legislation into action.

Posted by: Kimberle | February 9, 2007 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Anyone having problems with Vista only need to go South of the Border. cracked copies of Vista were on sale the day after they started selling protected copies in the states. Saw lots of copies of MS software for sale in Eastern Europe with no product key needed. A key is only for honest people, and those who can afford the high MS prices.

Posted by: Harry | February 9, 2007 3:58 PM | Report abuse

This and Vista's DRM are why it is the braking point that will make me pay a hardware premium to switch to a Mac. I'm tired of being treated like a criminal from the get go. I wouldn't shop at a store that frisked everyone on the way out, why should I put up with an OS that essentially does the same thing.

Posted by: Norm | February 9, 2007 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Yep, I'm on the Apple/Linux bandwagon too. I have OS/X and Ubuntu running at home. This story made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Posted by: Brian | February 9, 2007 4:54 PM | Report abuse

To Norm:

But you do shop in stores that frisk the hell out of you in the way in... they're called AIRPORTS!

Oh and many other products have followed MS suit and are requiring activations. It won't be long now when people start complaining about their MS inspired fascist techniques. Hence the trend starts and people continue badmouthing.

as for folks who say they "have no choice but to use MS" there are plenty of other choices out there. Various flavors of Linux and Unix with GUIs and compatibility with MS products. So there...

Posted by: Devis | February 9, 2007 5:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm running Vista Business on a "Vista-Capable" laptop bought last August. It runs at a great pace -- with all fancy visual effects turned on -- and the install (save the surprise of the easily correctable problem of not having proper video drivers) went smooth.

I don't feel like my privacy is beind invaded and I'm still able to us my PC the way I always have.

So there.

Posted by: DG | February 9, 2007 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Really I have been an pc guy since DOS 1.0 when windows came out it was alright then when 95 came out I hated it the when frikin xp "plaskool os" with teletubies hill in the background I hated it more each time more bloated each time higher hardware requirements. I do UNIX I do OSX from this point forward I am loadin ReactOS on all my windows boxes barely tell the difference works looks the same and the its only 50 meg and free. I think I will get openoffice too.

Posted by: Chet | February 9, 2007 6:31 PM | Report abuse

easy enough to download a pirate copy for free. Millions of people will. Unfortunately, then their computer will likely be using 10% power to launch a zombie DOS attack launched by the person who made the pirate copy. The pirated windows owners will probably not notice, but everyone else will get spammed or hacked or whatever by the zombie machines. If MS were serious about stopping spam and hackers they would offer free antivirus that didn't require or even look for a validated installation.

Posted by: steve | February 9, 2007 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Microsoft has finally succeeded at making a product that is pirate proof. Anyone with the know-how to high jack the OS knows it is not worth stealing. Just my opinion. Anyway, I am not going any further with Windows. It is way too intrusive and getting more that way all the time for me!

Posted by: J0hnnyB0y | February 10, 2007 3:11 AM | Report abuse

I suggest upgrading to Linux.

Posted by: somebody | February 10, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Another Chris - They *ARE* holding your files hostage. Remember bitlocker.

Posted by: Rob | February 10, 2007 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe that so many people are uspset over Vista needing to be activated. Getting a pirated copy is called STEALING! What is wrong with Microsoft trying to protect they products. Would it be differnt if you developed a product and someone made pirated copies of it and gave it away for free. Or is is differnt becasue Microsoft already has money? Stealing from someone with money is the same as stealing from someone who doesn't.

Posted by: Jeff | February 10, 2007 2:22 PM | Report abuse

I have two valid copies of Vista and the one I have installed works. I have no issues with getting the free copy ever since my Dell crapped out and I had no way to reinstall the OS. Besides XP has the same annoying bullplop with activation and eventually there was a crack that took it out. You could even use a crack on your legitimate copy of Vista if you really want. My suggestion is to wait for Vista if you intend to use it. The real issue for me is lack of drivers from big name companies that say they are working on it as if they had their thumbs up their bums for the last year or more.

Posted by: mac | February 10, 2007 8:52 PM | Report abuse

If I understand what you wrote, Gateway lent you a machine to test out. So why no one is blaming Gateway for putting on a copy of Vista that had the same number as a bunch of other presumably loaned out machines. Why doesn't MS have a product key for reviewer machines that's good for 30-60 days?
I blame a combination of Gateway & MS for this.

Posted by: Unindicted Co-conspirator | February 10, 2007 10:48 PM | Report abuse

Send it back to the manufacturer? That's a monumental pain in the neck, enough to make one stick with XP. If Microsoft and Gateway can't fix the problem over the net, something is seriously wrong with the validation system. At worst, Gateway would have to pay Microsoft for another license. Full stop.

Posted by: Ian Gilbert | February 10, 2007 11:28 PM | Report abuse

I don't mind license authentication, but I do mind loss of user control. I own my PC, not MS. And get ready for lots of Vista updates. How else does MS justify new OS's and keep the money rolling in? XP does everything I need quite well without this new BS. We've got a few years left to ignore Vista, but soon we'll need to decide what OS to use because XP support will eventually end.

Posted by: Peter | February 11, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

My new Sony Vaio FE-890 notebook, with Vista and MS Office 2007 installed, is quirky and soon to lock me out of the MS Office software (after 25 uses), while I'm on a business trip! The "product key" supplied with the computer doesn't work. Called tech support 7 times, with no success. When I get home, the computer is going back to Sony. Also the new 2007 MS-Word and MS Excel suck! Going back to XP & Office 2003.

Posted by: Paul | February 11, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Former Apple person here.
Aside from Apple's requiring a new OS with every new machine, and the lack of backward compatibility in the newest OS, I see no sense in changing to MAC.

MS does torque my screws frequently.
But nothing like what Apple has done to it's customers in the past.

I was Boston Computer Society back in the 80s, and what Apple did to the ][gs community was inexcusable.

I went MS back then.
I'm probably going to upgrade my Linux skills because of Vista.
Even my MS Action Pack wasn't worth the money.

Posted by: ArtGle | February 11, 2007 5:30 PM | Report abuse

12 Feb 2007.
I'm an oldie 71. I have experienced PC stuff for three decades. I teach computers to oldies. I hope our Club does not install M$ Vista for years untill all the bugs are ironed out, read "plenty of Updates". How can small business afford *another* new OS and also a new PC?
I have used GNU/Linux for a few years but still use M$ W98 and only recently M$ XP for my VHS tape capturing archiving. Now it appears not only does one need to activate which I don't really mind but once should be enough. Yes GNU/Linux distributions do update frequently but they don't cost hundreds of dollars.
I advise folk to *change/migrate to GNU/Linux where possible and get a new free experience"!!!!!!!

Posted by: Juan Carlos D'Alton | February 11, 2007 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Questions -

What is the most likely cause that triggered the lock down in Rob's case? How often does Vista need to validate its key? After the initial installation, can Vista be firewalled to prevent it from phoning home?

Unless there's a way to block it from phoning home, any Vista user could suffer a similar fate if another user sends an identical key back to the Mother $hip.

Posted by: Kelly | February 11, 2007 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Well the 'Wow' started for a fellow coworker who against advice bought and installed a copy of vista on his 6 month old $6000 laptop (alienware).

'Wow, it took 3.5 hours to install.'

'Wow, the 7800GTX graphics card dont work right.'

'Wow, the computer locked up.'

'Wow, the box now thinks its pirated and has effectively locked me out'

45 minutes later, the end result...

'Wow, the SOE XP image runs quite well under vmware on this ubuntu box'

Posted by: mdh | February 11, 2007 11:41 PM | Report abuse

this problem is bunk. Nobody is going to experience this in the real world outside of reporters who got their laptops as a buyoff to post blogs on the product. worst case scenario, the laptop locks you me enter the product key stuck to my laptop's user's guide or the side of my PC...wham everything's fine now.

i'll admit the activation thing sucks, but it's serving its purpose (interesting side note: microsoft made its billions DURING the age BEFORE product activation WHILE we were ALL pirating its OS). people are paying for vista just to 'avoid the hassles' - but its no different than walmart putting theft detectors at the exits and paying an old lady to "guard" the all depends on how nice you are about it :)

Posted by: dave | February 12, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I don't care that MS want to validate product activation. My concern is how does this effect users with multiple computers, or those who reformat their computers on a regular basis.

Am I going to need to call up MS everytime I need to reinstall the OS and tell them my life history to prove that my copy was purchased legally?

Posted by: Danny | February 12, 2007 3:04 PM | Report abuse

No one does a better job of making the case for Linux than Microsoft.

Thanks to Bill and Steve.

Posted by: the Count of Monte Cristo | February 13, 2007 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I too am moving to Ubuntu. There have been some problems of course, but all in all, this will be my platform in the future.

Posted by: Hobo | February 14, 2007 7:38 AM | Report abuse

A suggestion: The next time you solicit opinions on Windows' validation practices why not include a check box to indicate whether the commenter has actually purchased a genuine copy of Windows. Then you could let the reader filter comments to exclude the Mac shills and Ubuntu proselytizers so that we wouldn't have to scroll so far down the page to find the comment form.

Posted by: jeffmoger | February 15, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I have had to repurchase xp because my computer PS fried the motherboard.
Being pc friendly, I bought a new MB and switched it out. Lo and behold, my copy of xp locked up and said I needed to purchase a new key. This was on one computer, with one previous install. I had just spent the money to fix the thing,and now I had to buy a new key. Salt in the wound.
Rather than argue with anyone over the issue,i repurchased the OS (this time in OEM version.) I have never stolen or used a pirated copy of MS software. But the next time this happens, My computer WILL be running, and I will not buy the damned thing again. My wife will have to live with Linux. (Which I love, btw.)

Posted by: Ogrelee | February 23, 2007 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Just had the same "invalid product key" problem upon normal boot. New Gateway laptop with pre-installed Vista Home Premium purchased Feb 4 had been running fine until today. Found product key sticker. Tried to enter it into the MS screen but screen claimed it was invalid. Currently on hold with Gateway tech support.

Am ready to ditch Vista and get XP Pro.

Posted by: Disgusted | February 24, 2007 5:38 PM | Report abuse

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