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Fancy a copy o' Vista, guv'nor?

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Those crazy hacksters over in warez-land have worked out a way to get around Microsoft's latest licensing system for Windows Vista, according to the bods at APC Mag. Understanding the crack requires something of a quick history lesson, so get your glasses on and grab a notepad.

Back when Windows XP was released, Microsoft introduced product activation for all its consumer products - so anybody installing XP had to phone back to Microsoft for the company to check that the copy of Windows was legit. This is the case with current installations today. Corporate customers - who are installing thousands of machines at time, making one-by-one activation impractical - were issued with 'corporate keys', keys which would allow Windows XP to install on any number of machines without phoning home.

Of course, one of these keys - the infamous FCKGW hack - made its way onto the web and thus was XP cracked. Simply downloading the image of the XP disc and using the hacked key meant free XP for life.

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To prevent this problem in Windows Vista, Microsoft abolished corporate keys. Instead, corporations now have to set up 'activation key servers' - physical servers within the corporate network that have the authority to issue keys out to systems that ask for them, and which run software to keep a check on the keys being used.

That server software isn't released to the public yet, but already it has been spotted on nefarious websites under the guise of 'Vista MelindaGates' - a snarky reference to head honcho Bill's wife.

The software can be installed in a virtual machine within Vista and will intercept the phone home calls of the cracked Vista DVD that has been circulating around the warez underground for a while. The fake virtual server keeps Vista happy and, whilst it needs to be run every 6 months, is an otherwise fairly solid approach to avoiding Microsoft's activation requirements.

As long as pirates can stay away from Windows Update, which will require a more in-depth assessment of installation legitimacy, they can enjoy the fruits of Aero Glass and whatnot fore the foreseeable future.

This is an interesting blow to Microsoft's anti-piracy plans, although the level of technical ability required to make it work will make it something of a niche hack. The hack also only works for Business and Enterprise editions of Vista, not the rather nicer Home Premium and Ultimate editions. For those, we are still waiting for the big day - January 30.

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