Computer Performance, Windows Vista Registry

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Windows Vista Activation Hack

Windows Vista Activation Hack

While I am happy to explain how SkipRearm postpones Vista's activation, my recommendation is don't try to cheat the Microsoft's Licence agreement.  My justification for publishing this Vista Activation Hack is that you cannot suppress knowledge.  While this registry tweak walks the tightrope between the legal and software piracy, editing the SkipRearm value is not like cloning the product keys.  Surprisingly, the source of this registry hack is a TechNet article on Microsoft's own site.

Topics for Windows Vista Activation Hack

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Background to SkipRearm

The SkipRearm registry setting is designed to help large companies, who roll-out Vista with sysprep, or deploy other cloning software.  The problem is that there could be a considerable delay - longer than 30 days - between installing Vista on the 'Master' machine and activating the clones.  Nothing illegal here, just a big corporation installing lots of Vista machines over a period of several months. 

Microsoft, kindly provide a mechanism for techies to re-arm the activation mechanism.  You can legally run Vista's built-in Software Licence manager to gain a 30 day extension of the grace period for activation.  The command is slmgr -rearm.

Now here is the tricky bit, I would like to explain the relationship between the registry setting: SkipRearm and the command line: slmgr -rearm.  Remember that the key is number 3.  If the registry setting is SkipRearm = 0 then you get three goes at running slmgr -rearm.  Next, let us check the logic of SkipRearm = 0, meaning count one of the 3 lives, and SkipRearm = 1, meaning don't count one of those lives.  In conclusion, changing the registry key to SkipRearm = 1, means don't use up one of my three lives.

Since knowledge of the SkipRearm Vista activation hack has reached the public domain, unscrupulous end users, or even suppliers, could use this to delay activation.  As a result anyone could install zillions of copies of Vista from just one legitimate product key.  All you have to do is hack the registry and set SkipRearm = 1 before you run slmgr - rearm.

Limitations of SkipRearm

Research indicates that even using the SkipRearm registry hack, you can only use this technique 7 times to delay Windows Vista activation.  Additionally, you can use slmgr.vbs -rearm three times, making 10 delays in all.

The knowledge that SkipRearm was designed to assist corporations with sysprep, helps us to understand why this registry hack will only work with these three versions of Vista: Enterprise, Business and Ultimate.  However, I have heard rumours that it will also work with upgrade version of Vista Home.

Registry Instructions for SkipRearm

  1. Preliminary experiment, check the activation expiry date with the command: slmgr -xpr
  2. Launch Regedit. (See more details on starting regedit)
  3. Navigate to this path:
    ** HKLM\SOFTWARE \Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\SL
  4. Double-click SkipRearm and change the value to 1.
  5. Note: this registry hack does not make any sense on a machine which has already been activated!
  6. Now remember to run the 30 day extension command: slmgr -rearm
  7. Restart the machine.  After it reboots, run slmgr -xpr and check the expiry date.
  8. Check the registry setting SkipRearm, slmgr resets the value to zero.

Screen Shot of SkipRearm

Vista Activation Hack - SkipRearm

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Key Learning Points

  • Do you find the SkipRearm value in HKCU** or HKLM? 
    Answer: HKLM
  • Should you create a value, or modify an existing setting? 
    Answer: Modify
  • Is SkipRearm a String Value or a DWORD? 
    Answer: DWORD
  • Do you need to Restart, or merely Logoff / On? 
    Answer: Restart.
  • Note: it is only worth trying this technique on a Vista Business, Enterprise or Ultimate machine that has not already been activated.

** HKLM is an abbreviation of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, and HKCU is shorthand for HKEY_CURRENT_USER.  These acronyms are so well-known that you can even use them in .reg files, Vista will understand and obey the registry instruction.

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Cheats Never Prosper

By saying, cheats never prosper, I am not seeking to take the moral high ground; it's more that I want to pass on advice learned from the hard school of knocks.  Here are the results from previous attempts to beat Microsoft's licensing agreement, none had a happy ending.

  • NT 3.51: Install an evaluation copy, then apply a service pack to remove the 120 day restriction. (Urban Myth)
  • NT Workstation: Change two registry keys and turn a Workstation into NT Server. (Would you risk a company server on a registry hack, just to save $300?)
  • Windows Server 2000: Attempt the setupreg.hiv hack to bypass activation. (Plain did not work)
  • The Windows Vista Activation hack SkipRearm fails after 7 attempts.  Also, it does not work on Vista Home editions.

Final Thoughts

My final thought is if you apply one of these dubious hacks to the registry, then you could be in trouble if you ever try to apply an update, and especially if you ever apply a service pack.  I admit that in this final paragraph, Guy's imagination is working overtime.  Imagine you were a Microsoft engineer, who was cheesed off at people beating your lovely system; would it not be tempting to create a service pack that detected illegal hacks, and then did something to cripple the operating system?  I have seen a few forum posts that suggest service packs have adverse effects on illegal software.

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