Exclusive Microsoft has confirmed reports received by The Register that Windows 2000 PCs running a specific version of Office 2000 have been hit by sudden, unexpected requests to continually register the software with Microsoft.
The glitch could leave thousands of Office users unable to continue using their software.
The problem appears to centre on the Select Customer - ie. non-academic volume licence purchasers - version of the Office 2000 Service Release 1 (SR-1) running on Win2k. The Office 2000 Product Registration Wizard appears when any Office app is launched and invites the user to register. There's no way to get rid of the Wizard other than filling in all the details each time or clicking Register Later.
Unfortunately, clicking Register Later more than 50 times renders Office unusable. The Office Registration Wizard was introduced with SR-1 as an anti-piracy measure. Designed to be "simple and unobtrusive while protecting customer privacy", the Wizard requires you to register the product and obtain an eight-character activation code from Microsoft. The Wizard lets you use Office up to 50 times without registering, after which you must register in order to continue using Office apps.
Unfortunately (again), because of a documented bug in the Wizard, launching Office SR-1 after the fiftieth click causes the Wizard to Unexpectedly Quit. Microsoft has a solution for this particular problem, but it's a 23-step process involving editing Windows' Registry, a perilous process at the best of times. Even Microsoft warns uses that they "use Registry Editor at your own risk".
If you're brave enough to tackle the task, you can get the Wizard to operate, but until you register, you won't be able to use Office.
The irony is that that's what Select customers have already done. Corporates buy large volume licences to avoid registering each PC, which just keeps IT staff away from solving real problems.
Select customers have little choice but to tell their users not to quit from Office apps or shut their PCs down. The Wizard began popping up on PCs yesterday. One source at a major global energy company told us many of the corporate's 70,000 Windows 2000 PCs have been affected.
Microsoft support told our sources that it has received notification of the same issue from a number of other major European organisations. The problem has been granted a Severity B rating.
Microsoft confirmed that it has received notification of the issue, and is pursuing a fix. In the meantime, a workaround is available, a company spokeswoman told The Register. What that entails, show couldn't tell us, but our sources claim Microsoft support is telling users to set PC clocks back two years. That suggesting the problem centres on a time-limiting feature in the Office SR-1 code, invoking the re-registration process after a certain time.
If that's the case - and at this stage we can't confirm that it is - we wonder what other software might suddenly contain such a time-bomb. It's not hard to imagine Microsoft's anti-piracy strategy circa 2000 featuring a plan to periodically require users to verify their right to use their software. If such an initiative had been considered, did the Office developers simply forget to switch off the code - or should we expect similar behaviour from other software too? ®