Microsoft runs out of Windows XP family licences

Microsoft's offer to sell home users extra licences to use their Windows XP software on additional PCs is a hit. It's such a big hit, you can't find the licenses anywhere.

Microsoft's offer to sell home users extra licences to use their Windows XP software on additional PCs is a hit. It's such a big hit, you can't find the licences anywhere.

Windows XP's product activation feature, which essentially ties the copy of the operating system to the PC where it's installed, is intended to stop the illegal practice of installing the OS on multiple PCs. To further encourage multiple-PC homes to play by the rules, Microsoft offers additional licenves for slightly less than the cost of the initial retail package (the offer doesn't apply to owners of new PCs with Windows XP). The problem: A month after Windows XP's release, Microsoft has already run out of licenves.

"There is a backlog," says Mark Croft, lead product manager for Windows XP. "What happened is we made some projections about how many additional family licence we would sell in the first 90 days, and the demand has far exceeded our expectations." Microsoft won't give figures, or even reveal the percentage of sales that are family licences.

"We're in the process of restocking, but while it sounds like it may be easy, there is actually a manufacturing process involved," he says. That process involves the creation of a paper licence and a new product key code. Croft says he expects the supply of licenses to improve by the end of November.

And here's another catch: You can't purchase additional family-use licences based on a licence of a Windows XP preloaded on a new PC. To take advantage of the family licence, you'll need to buy a full packaged copy of Win XP. That's always been the plan, because most preloaded discs are already tied to a single PC, and that disc couldn't be used to install the OS on another system, according to Microsoft.

No casual copiers

Two areas of illegal activity affect Microsoft's sales: casual piracy and professional counterfeiters, Croft says.

Microsoft implemented the product activation process in the retail versions of Windows XP Home and Professional to deter casual copying. The company employs other techniques to try to stop the professional counterfeiters, he says.

After the product activation drew some static, Microsoft eased up, implementing some practices intended to lessen the hassle for legitimate licensees. It also implemented the family licensing discount.

Microsoft doesn't publish hard numbers, but Croft says a "significant number" of the installed versions of Windows are the result of casual copying.

"Product activation is a means of trying to get some control over people installing Windows on multiple PCs," he said. "But we tried to use a technology that didn't really impact people -- that didn't make it harder to install Windows or to upgrade their machines."

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