> that Valve couldn't release a patch of some sort that didn't
> require activiation.
Tell that to the guy who picks up a Half-Life 2 CD in the bargain bin or secondhand, pops it in, and wonders why he can't play his game. Or the guy who bought it new right now and goes to reinstall it a couple years later but has no idea how to go about manually finding patches, downloading them, and updating a PC game--or even that PC games can be updated. Just because you and I are savvy enough to know that most PC games have downloadable patches and add-ons doesn't mean most people do. They don't.
The very concept of buying physical software media that are completely useless crippleware coasters without online server authentication every time you install it is repugnant. You can still play movies recorded 25 years ago to obscure RCA Selectavision CED vinyl discs, yet millions of DiVX discs are useless because of needless server authentication.
Crippleware Half-Life 2 CDs are no different. The time will come in several years when the server isn't there and the average user--who's more used to the console heritage of games that just work and don't need to register with a server to download keys or patches just to play single-player--will have no clue how to use the software he bought anymore.