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Notes on Academic Windows 2K and Office 2K
By Thiravudh Khoman

I wrote somewhere that I wasn't planning "to try Windows 2000 anytime soon" and that I didn't "like Office 2000", but here I am writing about the dreaded duo. Oh well, mea culpea, here are my excuses: a) it's already way past "soon" (i.e. time HAS past), b) I was in dire need of an English Microsoft Office to use with Win2K and I wasn't about to shoot myself in the foot by installing Office 97/Thai under English (sic) Win2K.

But first, some background. As I write this, I'm on a one year "sabbatical" in the U.S. While I brought my notebook computer with me from Thailand, I sorely needed another computer in order to minimize family congestion on this sole computer. Thus, I had a new desktop computer built for me, and pigged out, gettting a Pentium III system, a step up from my Celeron machine at home.

Soon after I had finished installing Windows 98/Thai SE, I gleefuly noticed how much faster it was. But not for long. By the time I finished installing the mass of programs I regularly use, there was a noticeable drop in speed. Damn. Win98 is infamous for slowing down the more you use it, but little time had actually passed, and worse still, it would be all downhill from here.

Meanwhile, after a 2-year Win98 install, my notebook had become very, very quirky. Rather than reinstall Win98 on it and see both computers embark on a journey down Alzheimer's Lane, I decided that perhaps it was time to give Win2K a try. Fortunately, I've had some experience with Windows NT, so the Win2K way of doing things wasn't too onerous for me.

Obtaining/Installing Windows 2K

Now, where to get the software? In the U.S., one ALWAYS tries to buy things on sale - there's such a big difference in price otherwise. My wife is teaching at a local university and the bookstore there has various software titles on sale at "academic" prices which she is eligible to buy. Win2K Professional upgrade for example, sells there for US$129 while Office 2K Professional full-pack sells for US$197. Compare this to the prices at PC Connection, a U.S. mail order outfit, where Win2K upgrade sells for US$190 and Office 2K Pro full-pack sells for US$500. I'm not positive what the Thailand prices are, but I'd guesstimate 15,000 Baht and 30,000 Baht respectively. Clearly, there is a HUGE difference in price between U.S. Academic, U.S. retail/mail order, and Thailand retail prices, the latter being about THREE to FIVE times that of the former.

One pleasant surprise I found when installing the academic Win2K was that it was NOT an upgrade at all but rather a full-pack. On a hunch, I decided to wipe clean all my existing partitions and tried installing it without an existing Windows installation. No complaints, it worked! The remaining setup process was routine, but again, this was partly due to my familiarity with Win9x/NT installations, plus the fact that I knew Win2K would require entirely new hardware drivers and had taken the steps to obtain these beforehand.

Another interesting fact about Win2K which sets it apart from its earlier Win 9x/NT brethern is that there is apparently NO Thai-localized version of the program. Rather, the "English" (sic) version has built-in support for various languages, including Thai. This is truly wonderful since it means: a) you don't need to wait for the release of a Thai-specific version of Win2K, nor b) do you need to wait for Thai-specific service packs later in life. c) Being able to use the "English" version also gives you latitude in where you can obtain the software (i.e. in light of the high Thailand prices). Finally, d) you don't run the risk of creating a mish-mash of Thai and English system files by installing Thai-customized applications like Office, a common problem with Thai Win9x. Again, because I had done prior research, I was already of aware of these benefits and indeed they were instrumental in my choosing to give Win2K a try.

Installing Office 2K

With Win2K up and running (the speed's acceptable even with my notebook's borderline AMD K6-2 CPU and 64mb RAM), I next needed to install some productivity software - i.e. Office 2K. This is where things started to get unpleasant. In order to curtail software piracy, Microsoft recently implemented something called a "Registration Wizard" in software sold in certain markets. Unfortunately, Office 2K sold to academia in the U.S. and Canada is one such market. Office 2K sold in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil have also been similarly "blessed".

As with previous versions of Microsoft Office, when you install the software, you are required to enter a "CD key", a long string of letters and characters which acts as an installation password. However, it doesn't end there. During installation, the Registration Wizard generates another key string which you are supposed to submit to Microsoft in return for yet another string, which you key into any of the Office 2K applications. If you don't obtain or enter this confirmation string, you will be able to run the Office applications ONLY 50 times before they are permanently disabled. Nice, huh?

There are several ways to submit this string and to obtain the confirmation string from Microsoft: by snail mail, by telephone, by fax, by email, or online. Incidentally, if you needed to reinstall Office 2K on different hardware (say, your current computer dies), your changed hardware may (or may not) require you to obtain another confirmation string. Microsoft says that the confirmation string may be requested anonymously (except to provide your country of residence) and that they currently do not limit the times you can request a string.

The big question, of course, is from whence comes this string? Microsoft says that the Registration Wizard does not scan your hard disk for information, but rumour has it that the Wizard searches your hardware for identificable serial numbers (e.g. your motherboard's serial number, your network card's MAC address, etc.). I can't confirm this and in fact trial installations on my notebook and desktop generated identical registration strings despite the hardware differences. While Microsoft probably doesn't wish to be criticized for snooping, it's not terribly difficult to add such a search if it really wanted to in the future.

Personally, I abhor this scheme and I made up my mind NOT to play along. Just as the RIAA action against Napster helped to increase the incidence of song swapping, this Microsoft tactic got me started in the underworld of Warez, Serialz and Crackz in search of a workaround. Alas, I didn't find any, or rather I found several, but none worked or the links were broken. However, patience has its virtue. Eventually, I found a workaround that leap frogged the Registration Wizard. I won't say what it is or where to find it, but it's out there. Programmers love to create backdoors and whether this is one of those I don't know, but bless their souls.

Final Words

My objectives in writing this piece were twofold. First, if you're looking to buy some "real" software and are eligible to purchase academically-priced software (i.e. you're a student or an educator), I highly recommend that you look into this option, since it can save you a considerable amount of money. Such software is relatively easy to find in the U.S., at least at the collegiate level, as universities tend to sell these in their bookstores. In Thailand though, it's considerably a harder to find. I don't know whether the Thai university bookstores carry these, but I have seen them off and on at Challenger Superstore, Book Chest, and IT City's Microsoft section (exclusively Microsoft stuff, though). Anyway, if you don't see for it, ask for it; nay, insist on it.

By the way, not all software companies sell academically-priced software (most notably, Microsoft, Adobe, Symantec, and Borland/Inprise do). Furthermore, not all software titles are available in this form either. For example, only the Pro version of Win2K is available as such.

Second, get ready for Microsoft's Registration Wizard. I have no doubt whatsoever that it WILL find its way into other software titles as well as other geographical markets soon, very soon. And yes, this includes Thailand.

Copyright © 2000, Thiravudh Khoman