05.20.09

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Kill Switches for XBox 360s, Internet Explorer, and Windows

Posted in Hardware, Microsoft, Windows at 11:58 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: When disabling products (not by the owner) becomes a ‘feature’

An XBox director quit the company some weeks ago (amid losses) and now we find that Xbox 360s may actually have kill switches.

Rumor: Microsoft Can Kill Xbox 360s Remotely

A bit of qualification: I follow 8BitJoystick’s Jake Metcalf on Twitter and he seems like a responsible writer. More importantly, he has a track record of digging up credible inside sources. He famously broke the news that Halo developer Bungie was leaving Microsoft (it was actually amusing to see bigger outlets laugh at him, then eat their words), and has posted a couple other juicy reports as well.

So when Metcalf says the source was “well vetted,” I believe him, even if the source’s information leaves me skeptical simply because it’s so unbelievable.

If the report is accurate, the obvious question remains: Does Microsoft have the legal right to do this? Yes, Metcalf argues, because hacking an Xbox 360 is a violation of the console’s terms of service, as well as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The notion of a Microsoft kill switch is one that we mentioned before [1, 2] and this post suggests that the European Commission might actually exploit it to address Microsoft’s anti-competitive offences and revert back to greater market fairness.

The Europen Commission could fine Microsoft, force it to offer other browsers, or require a “kill switch” in Windows that would disable IE.

Microsoft has added a “kill switch” of sorts to Windows 7 that will let users prevent IE8 from running. Opera’s CEO, however, has said that he considers Microsoft’s move to be insufficient. The company’s Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC), which is expected to publicly launch tomorrow, will be the first chance most users have of testing that kill switch.

With or without remote disablement mechanisms, Microsoft is not truly trying to eliminate illegal copying of Windows. One of our readers wrote about it thusly:

I got a few search hits from people looking for Vista cracks:

No I’m not going to give you any or tell you exactly how, so if you’re here for that go away.

I just figured this would be a reason to write a little bit about what Product Activation and WGA do, what Microsoft has stated, and what they’ve actually done.

Most Vista cracks…

…are based on trying to fool Vista into thinking that you have an OEM license by loading a “System Locked Pre-installation” key into your BIOS or into the shadowed copy of your BIOS (where Vista actually checks).

As some people in China found out the hard way (black screens of death [1, 2]), Microsoft may permit Windows to be installed illegally and even encourage it. Once the user accommodates the operating system with personal data and applications Microsoft can resort to extortion and demand payments. How friendly a strategy.

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