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Windows XP Activation Algorithm Cracked After 21 Years

Windows XP Green HillsWindows XP was Microsoft’s first OS that required software activation.

For most users, it was a nonevent because their OS came preloaded when they bought their new desktop or laptop.  But hobbyists who built their own PCs had to grapple with installing Windows XP, typing in a code, and then waiting for it to phone home and activate (or not).

This was a step up from the previous versions where all copy protection rested on the key.  If you could generate or copy a key that passed the installer’s algorithm,  you could install.  In the barely-Internet era, that may have been enough, but once finding keys was as easy as googling (er, in those days Yahooing, Exciting, or Lycosing) “Windows key”, Microsoft needed something stronger.

Regardless, this privacy-prevention “feature” was quickly subverted.  There were hacks, but they required modifying the system and you never knew what would break.

However, the Register wrote a story last week (and thanks to LowEndTalk veteran @farsighter for pointing it out to our community) that the final piece of the activation algorithm has been reverse engineered.  Keygens have existed for a long time but now you can also generate the confirmation codes.

You Can…But Should You?

First, keep in mind that Windows XP hails from the 32-bit era, which may cramp your style.  And of course, there are no drivers for many modern devices.

It also ships with the dreaded Internet Explorer 6, and can only be upgraded to IE 8.

However, there is a robust hobbyist community that continues to support this ancient OS, and most 32-bit apps will still work fine.

You owe Microsoft a license fee, of course 😉


1 Comment

  1. Great chance to migrate to Linux instead of Closed Source Corporate Software

    Also if a computer is still running XP/2k/2003
    I would have concerns of its Hard Drive lasting ability in current year

    Heck a 2nd hand optiplex would be better then a XP machine

    May 30, 2023 @ 5:25 pm | Reply

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