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Options for 'Fixing' A Pirated Copy of Windows 601

PunkOfLinux writes "My parents are running a pirated copy of windows that my mom received from a teacher at school. My parents want to go legit, and buy a copy of Windows, but they are afraid of deleting everything and having to reinstall all their programs. Seeing as I know you guys will have an answer, I'm going to ask you: What would you do in this situation?"
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Options for 'Fixing' A Pirated Copy of Windows

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 30, 2006 @10:35AM (#15810993)
    I would post as anonymous coward...
  • Call microsoft (Score:5, Informative)

    by Data Link Layer ( 743774 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @10:35AM (#15810996)
    Call their help support line and you can buy a copy from them. They will tell you how to replace the cd-key, if they can't you can download a cd-key changer from the internet.
    • Re:Call microsoft (Score:5, Informative)

      by phoebus1553 ( 522577 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @10:45AM (#15811060) Homepage
      Microsoft actually makes a key change tool, although I'm sure it obeys some restrictions while the ones from don't. If you've ever had to deal with the volume licensing support folks, they can occasionally be real people and give you all sorts of tricks and such to make your life easier when dealing with license compliance.
      • Re:Call microsoft (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 30, 2006 @10:30PM (#15814582)
        Actually, the Microsoft 'KeyChangeTool' is quite leaps and bounds ahead of any ... third-party ... key changing tools. The Microsoft tool has the ability to transform a Corporate install into a Professional Non-Corporate install. No key changers can do this.

        If you try any of the registry tricks to 'update' your product key, Windows XP Professional Corporate's Activation Wizard will not accept a non-corporate key. The non-Microsoft key changers I ever saw couldn't get around this because there are very specific differences (file based) between corporate and non-corporate versions of Windows.

        In any case, my recommendation to poster is to do what I did: Run the WGA tool, click the link to buy a license online, buy the license, and use the MS keychanger. Takes about 5-10 minutes overall, and you get the creamy goodness of running your very own legit copy of Windows XP.
    • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:54PM (#15813329) Journal
      If they're running a new enough version of Windows to care about the problem, but are afraid of reinstalling all their software, they probably aren't the type of people to do good backups, but their system should support external USB drives. So they should go spend $100-150 to get an external hard drive, drag&drop all their data onto it, and see if there's a good backup program that'll do something useful with installed programs (any recommendations?).

      *Then* they can think about doing a Windows key update or if necessary reinstalling.

    • Re:Call microsoft (Score:4, Informative)

      by Aeomer ( 990057 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @07:11PM (#15813685)
      Be very careful when downloading key changes - Most if not all contain some kind of malware. Even ones you think you can trust (and there were a few) are loaded up with malware, spyware, viri, trojans etc etc and then re-released. Go with the MS one. In-fact it can be run from the command line and is already built into Windows XP since before even SP1 was available. It's msoobe - and oh yes, there are malware apps that pretend to be msoobe ;-(
  • by complete loony ( 663508 ) <`Jeremy.Lakeman' `at' `gmail.com'> on Sunday July 30, 2006 @10:36AM (#15811003)
    You can change your product key [microsoft.com].
    • by NixLuver ( 693391 ) <.moc.citerehck. .ta. .etihwts.> on Sunday July 30, 2006 @10:43AM (#15811048) Homepage Journal
      From the article you linked to, on Microsoft's KB (Do they still call it technet?):

      "Warning The steps in the article are effective only on Volume License media. If you try these steps on OEM media or on retail media, you will not change the product key."

      AFAIK, this will only work with another volume licensed key. I occasionally have to install windows to test something for one of my moonlighting clients, and no, I don't buy a discrete license for a machine that's only going to have my copy of XP on it for two hours; I've been around the particular treadmill described here. (I own a "legit" XP license for my virtual PC instance; and I rarely start it up, so usually I'm not in violation anyway - one license, one running instance. *shrug*).

      But if the author of the parent post buys his parents a licensed copy of XP from a vendor, it won't be volume licensed, and this trick may not work.
    • In a VB (eww!) script in parent's link:
      Wscript.echo "Correct usage: Cscript ChangeVLKey.vbs ABCDE-FGHIJ-KLMNO-PRSTU-WYQZX"
      Back to kindergarten, Microsoft.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 30, 2006 @10:36AM (#15811006)
    and just use this tool

    http://download.microsoft.com/download/e/9/c/e9c73 b60-bff1-4f03-b06f-d3cbe8f8d9f4/KeyUpdateTool.exe [microsoft.com]

    enter in your new key, reboot and you are legit
  • We'll handle it from here, crimin.., I mean Sir. Just call us. Nothing to worry about.

    Seriously, though, I would think one big problem is that to to get legal you're Windows install is going to have to send a new registration message off to Microsoft. Not sure how you do that without a reinstall.

    Maybe if they're on XP Home, buy them an OEM version of XP Pro?
  • TweakXP (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tinfoil ( 109794 ) * on Sunday July 30, 2006 @10:37AM (#15811010) Homepage Journal
    TweakXP should do that for ya. Buy a new copy and key the serial number you get over the old one. Unless, of course, your parents have a volume license copy right now, and they buy a home version. Then you have to do a repair install.

    http://www.tweakxp.com/tweakutility/ [tweakxp.com]
  • Why bother? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DbZeroOne ( 905671 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @10:42AM (#15811044)
    Are they losing sleep at night feeling like they're taking food out of the mouths of those in Redmond? Do they think their system will run better? Perhaps they feel it's a sin because technically it's stealing? My advice... don't even bother with it. Buy Vista if and when it's released or wait until you get a new computer.
    • Re:Why bother? (Score:3, Interesting)

      More specifically: why now? Is it just because the WGA notice started popping up? I'm curious.
    • Re:Why bother? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by neo8750 ( 566137 ) <zepski@zepsEULERki.net minus math_god> on Sunday July 30, 2006 @12:11PM (#15811547) Homepage
      Do they think their system will run better?
      I think that it makes a difference. My friend had a AMD 2200 and had a gig of ram. His system ran fine and dandy till the wga started popping up. Once it started showing up his system slowed to a slow crawl. (Once he applied a wga fix it was up and running just like before the wga ever showed its face) My copy is legit so i couldn't compare results on my system. Did any one else have a problems like this just out of curiosity?
    • Re:Why bother? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cliffski ( 65094 )
      I see, so as microsoft have made a lot of money, that means its ok to pirate their software? Google have made lots of cash too, is it ok if i use click fraud to screw up adwords?
      These people are obviously happy with their OS, as they want to stick with it, I dont understand why you think they shouldnt pay for a product they clearly use probably every day, or is this just normal slashdot microsoft bashing?
      What is it about products that can be encoded digitally that some people think that their creators dont
      • Re:Why bother? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bit01 ( 644603 )

        What is it about products that can be encoded digitally that some people think that their creators dont need to eat?

        Grow up, child.


        It's wrong that an intellectual property creator should not be rewarded for their work.
        It's equally wrong that an IP creator should be rewarded too many times for the one piece of work, for exactly the same reasons.
        Reform IP law and stop the M$/RIAA abuse.

  • Buy an OEM copy (Score:3, Informative)

    by (H)elix1 ( 231155 ) <slashdot.helix@nOSPaM.gmail.com> on Sunday July 30, 2006 @10:43AM (#15811050) Homepage Journal
    From a *trusted* on-line vendor. XP home will go for ~80-90 USD, Pro ~140. http://www.zipzoomfly.com/jsp/ProductList.jsp?Thir dCategoryCode=071002 [zipzoomfly.com] for example. You see it offered for much less, odds are it is a "student" version or "replacement media". OEM it typically what system builders use, so if you use that version in theory it is tied to that system. The $300 retail version can be moved from system to system, but costs a boatload more.
    • That's a great idea, except for one thing. It's not any more legal than running the pirate version.

      OEM copies may only be sold with a new PC. If they're not buying a new PC, installing an OEM copy is against the license agreement. Of course, most folks don't pay attention to that, but poster did say they were trying to be legal, not aiming for "almost, but not quite" legal.

      You can't even transfer your OEM license [microsoft.com] from one machine to another. Again, nobody pays attention to that, but that doesn't cha

      • OEM copies can be sold with things like computer mice or ethernet cards
        • Re:Buy an OEM copy (Score:5, Interesting)

          by technothrasher ( 689062 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @11:29AM (#15811282)
          OEM copies can be sold with things like computer mice or ethernet cards

          Judging from Microsoft's 'System Builder' documentation, I don't think you even need to bother doing that. Buying and installing an OEM version of Windows onto your PC is perfectly fine and legal. But by doing so, you've now created a 'new PC' in Microsoft's eyes and so you no longer have access to any support from them, as support for OEM software is to be obtained from your system builder (namely, you, in this case). So you're legal but completely on your own. At least this is the way I read it.
          • Re:Buy an OEM copy (Score:3, Interesting)

            by qaz2 ( 36148 )
            As an individual, how much less on your own are you if you have a retail version?

            I do think one should buy the software one uses (I know I do), but I don't expect
            any personal support from Microsoft; I'm already glad if they fix known (security)
            bugs in a decent time frame.
        • ... or a power cable, or a dead motherboard+cpu ...

          But first, why not try a livecd of ubuntu or suse. If it does what they need, save the money, and spend some of it on hardware upgrades.

      • Re:Buy an OEM copy (Score:4, Insightful)

        by (H)elix1 ( 231155 ) <slashdot.helix@nOSPaM.gmail.com> on Sunday July 30, 2006 @11:27AM (#15811274) Homepage Journal
        The legit vendors meet the letter of the law by shipping a cable or some other trinket that qualifies the media as OEM. That part is not a grey area. Yup, the transfer issue is why I mentioned the retail version - but you would have to transfer from three machines to break even. If you have more than three machines, odds are the volume pricing is for you...
  • Over-under (Score:5, Funny)

    by mj01nir ( 153067 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @10:49AM (#15811081)
    Over-under on the number of "install Linux over it" posts: 36.
  • by mikelieman ( 35628 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @10:52AM (#15811097) Homepage
    IF your folks are worried about a reinstall, they're NOT ready to survive a catastropic harddrive crash.

    Much less full reload to clear an infection.
    • Yeah, surrrrre, "my parents".

      Looks like somebody accidentally installed the WGA update.
    • That was my very first thought as well. In general, it is amazing how little some people value their data.
    • by RebornData ( 25811 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @03:42PM (#15812711)
      Sorry to go on an off-topic rant here, but...

      I'm a consultant who helps small business and home users. I can't tell you how many times I have talked to customers who (in the past) have had another tech come along and do a re-install without understanding all of the implications.

      There is value in a machine's configuration! The customizations, tweaks, and even icon arrangements people create to make their systems work and lives easier are time-consuming to recreate, and there can be a major loss of productivity if they have to re-do it all from scratch. I'm a professional, and it's not uncommon for it to take me 3-5 hours to do a good job of getting all of the software, utilities, and configuration changes done for a typical business machine. Just because you can rebuild your own gaming rig from scratch in two hours (because you do it once a month) doesn't meant that this is a course of action that makes sense for everyone.

      This is why I always recommend *full* backups of the entire system... not just "important" documents. And it's why I do a full re-install as an absolute last resort. I can count the number of re-installs I've been forced into in the last *year* on one hand.

      The good news is that if you know what you're doing (unfortunately many techs don't) VERY few problems require a rebuild. It's very possible to clean off even the "worst" infections fairly quickly, with high confidence that everything is gone. I charge a two-hour flat rate for *any* infection cleanup (including kernel rootkits), and that usually works out to my advantage. Hard drives often have only failed in a few sectors... I commonly am able to image the failed drive to a new one, and repair the windows install using a combination of sfc, system restore, misc subsystem fixes, and (in the worst cases) a repair re-install.

      The benefit to the user is that they get their machine back *exactly the way it was*, the same day, without a large repair bill. The benefit to me is that the customer is happy and calls me back the next time they have a problem... instead of cursing me the whole time they are trying to rebuild their system the way they had it.

      If you are a tech and haven't learned this stuff, you are doing your customers and yourself a disservice.

      • I'm a professional, and it's not uncommon for it to take me 3-5 hours to do a good job of getting all of the software, utilities, and configuration changes done for a typical business machine.

        But a typical business machine is precisely the kind of machine that you should be able to re-image. The advantages of roaming profiles are enormous, and machines should be set up to use them. If they are, then repairing a virus or spyware infection would be a simple matter of rebooting with the image CD in the drive.

  • by insecuritiez ( 606865 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @11:13AM (#15811192)
    For all the people saying just buy Windows and change the key - there is a good chance this *wont* work. In principle changing the key does work - the trick is getting a legal key for the version installed.

    Your parents probably installed a Corporate copy of XP. This doesn't take the same keys as Home so they can't just walk down to Best Buy and get a key that is going to work.

    In fact, there are a number of different key types including:

    * XP Home
    * XP Home OEM
    * XP Pro
    * XP Pro OEM
    * XP Corporate
    (and more)

    Assuming your parents installed Corporate, they still need to buy a legal copy of Windows, yes, but they won't be able to pop the key in and go on their merry way. They will need to do what is knows an a "In place install". This isn't the cleanest way to do things but will make sure all their files are left intact (all settings including the entire registry are lost). Boot off the new disk:

    The first menu is going to ask you to install, go to the recovery console, or quit. Choose install by hitting enter.

    The second menu is a license agreement, hit F8.

    The third menu is going to show the existing Windows installation, choose to install on top of it. You will be warned about an existing Windows install there and be given the option of deleting the existing %systemroot% folder and continuing.

    Choosing this option will not delete anything on the drive other that what is in the windows folder. All of their files will still be available by navigating to the "Documents and Settings" folder.

    I know it is a dirty mess but it is the only way to go from one version of Windows to another while still retaining the contents of the hard drive.
    • Also theres windows XP Pro "Update" version...

      The easy way around most of this is to get the OEM version for the windows you have installed, do a software repair (boot from cd, enter at first screen, f8 then "R" to repair) and then it will take the OEM CD key as normal :)
      • A "repair" will often fail when repairing between different versions of Windows (Home/Pro, Media Center/Pro, etc). I agree that a repair is a lot cleaner than what I suggested but it is less likely to get the job done. Between the different versions, (home, pro, media center) and the different sub versions (upgrade, full, OEM, corp) the number of Windows CDs needed for people who do this daily is ridiculous.
    • I've done this sort of install before

      CAVEAT: Make *sure* you copy all data out of user directories before doing this. You will *not* be able to access them sometimes.

  • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Sunday July 30, 2006 @11:19AM (#15811224) Homepage Journal
    Turn that pirated version in to Microsoft and give them some info on how you obtained it, and they'll get you a legit copy of Windows in return, plus a small nominal charge, of course.
  • Vista (Score:3, Funny)

    by jdbartlett ( 941012 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @11:20AM (#15811227)
    Upgrading XP? Why not just wait for Vista?

    See you in a few years.
  • by tsvk ( 624784 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @11:24AM (#15811257)

    Now that Windows Update and certain Windows downloads require you to validate your copy of Windows before accessing the services (the Windows Genuine [microsoft.com] program), people have of course started having troubles with invalid product keys, etc.

    To help people sort out their Windows license problems, Microsoft have put online the Windows Genuine Advantage Talkback [microsoft.com] bulletin board, where Microsoft offers advice for people with license troubles.

    An interesting utility that I found mentioned there on the bulletin board is Microsoft Genuine Advantage Diagnostic Tool [microsoft.com], that shows lots of information about the license / product key of the current Windows installation.

  • I tried to update one of my friends' laptop, but it failed the activation check. Apparantly he did not install from the original cd that came with his computer (there is a genuine sticker below the laptop so it does have a legal license), but instead used a "corporate version" he got from another friend.

    Windows update offered selling a legimate key for retail price. I guess they do this for non-volume versions too.

    So all you have to do is engage windows update, get the check failed and follow the correspond
  • by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) * on Sunday July 30, 2006 @11:37AM (#15811329)
    Digg had an article [digg.com] recently about how to perform a windows re-install without loss of information. This may be of use to you.
  • Aside from being pirate heaven, a legit copy of thai windows xp costs about $3.50.
  • by yakhan451 ( 841816 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @11:43AM (#15811363)
    ... all you have to aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all.
  • up up down right left right right up enter

  • by Browzer ( 17971 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @11:55AM (#15811439)
    "...how to completely rebuild, repair, or refresh an existing XP installation without losing data, and without having to reinstall user software, reformat, or otherwise destructively alter the setup."

    http://www.informationweek.com/showArticle.jhtml;j sessionid=STKGFAI0KVUKAQSNDLPSKH0CJUNN2JVN?article ID=189400897&queryText=nondestructive+ [informationweek.com]

  • Obvious: Sysprep (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Use sysprep(found on the xp cd in tools/reskit/deploy.cab or just search the cd for deploy.cab)
    extract sysprep.exe and run sysprep.exe -reseal.

    when the machine reboots you can enter the COA from your legit copy of XP. no fuss, no muss. and your installed apps will still be there.
  • by gx5000 ( 863863 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @12:18PM (#15811585)
    I love all these Pseudo Tech offering advice, it always boggles my mind... 0- Buy a Copy of Windows (whatever version you have installed)or buy a key from M$ 1- Reboot in safe mode 2- Do a search for WPA.* (WPA.DBL, WPA.BAK)They're in C:\windows\system32 3- Delete these file 4- Reboot into normal mode, you will warned that you have blabla time to activate 5- Click to activate, select by phone, select change key (bottom of form) 6- Enter new legit key 7- You are returned to activation screen, click Activate online 8- Do a search and backup the wpa files for future needs 9- Done
  • call microsoft (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Planesdragon ( 210349 ) <slashdot.castlesteelstone@us> on Sunday July 30, 2006 @01:02PM (#15811815) Homepage Journal
    No, really, call Microsoft. They will give you all of the legit, legal options. I've seen them sell media-less CD-keys for Windows for as low as $50.
    • Mod parent up. (Score:3, Informative)

      This is the answer. I have also seen that if you install the new 'check if my copy is legal' tool that MS wants to auto-download through Windows Update, if it detects a pirated version, it will offer to let you buy a legal key for a decent price. ($150 for my [legal] full copy of XP Pro that it incorrectly thought was pirated.)

      Also, if you need to go through re-activation, and it doesn't like your key, it will offer to sell you one.

      And, if they bought the computer from a store and the store sold them a pi
  • by spiritraveller ( 641174 ) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @03:03PM (#15812500)
    What would you do in this situation?

    Whenever I have to reinstall windows (or more often, linux since my main computer runs a different distro about every week), I do an audit of all my data.

    First, write down what you need to keep: emails? accounting data from Quicken? config info from other applications? bookmarks? Get it all down and back up everything to an external drive or a CDR.

    Second, reinstall the OS and all applications. If you went through the whole harddrive, directory by directory, you should have saved all the config files and data files that you needed. If you didn't, then you should have gone more slowly and carefully.

    It is best to do a reinstall anyway, because if they've been running Windows for a long time, they probably have a lot of cruft... left-over services and other junk from programs they don't run anymore that are slowing down their machine... and there's always the possibility of malware lurking in the shadows.

    A reinstall takes care of all those things. Tell them not to be afraid, just patient and careful.
  • by dtfinch ( 661405 ) * on Sunday July 30, 2006 @07:22PM (#15813723) Journal
    I think if you own a valid product key the exact same edition that you pirated, you can download a product key changer from MS that'll let you substitute your valid product key in place of the pirated one. They offer it in the WGA support forums to people who's systems came with XP, but later reinstalled the same exact edition with a pirated key. http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=50346&clcid =0x409 [microsoft.com]

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984