My two boys got HP notebooks for Xmas (not from me). The notebooks came with Windows XP Home. My older boy remembered by advice, and declined to hook up the notebook to the Internet until I had a chance to look at it. When the boys came here I scanned the notebook, found it clean, and configured it to use my home wireless network and Internet connection without trouble.

My younger boy’s notebook was an entirely different story. He claims someone else may have played with it first. In any case as soon as I fired up Internet Explorer, advertising popups started appearing (and not from the websites), so I knew we had a problem.

My ex-inlaws apparently now have broadband Internet connections – mostly for my kids benefit when visiting – and this scares me. Understand the most mechanically gifted of their family installed a screen door closer sideways (I kid you not). I do not want to imagine the state of machines.

After a number of hours, I found and removed about 12 different spyware/adware packages that had infested his PC. After all this I still would not bet his machine was clean. Worse the IE installation no longer worked, so I could not run Windows Update.

At this point a complete re-installation seemed in order, but the re-installation disks were not to be found. No problem - I have a developer’s license and can download a CD image of Windows XP Home (with SP2) from Microsoft, and the machine has a sticker on the bottom with proper XP Home license key.

Well, guess what – this didn’t work. Burned a CD, fired up the installation, and the Windows XP Home installation will not accept the Windows XP Home license key on the notebook.

Now maybe HP is selling bootleg copies of Windows XP Home (this I doubt). Maybe Microsoft has some brain-damaged excuse why this should make sense (ha!). In any case I have now wasted hours and am more than a little annoyed.

My concern with “product activation” codes and the like has always been that when the vendor’s system does not work, then the customer is screwed. I sincerely hope that vendor’s eventually realise that screwing your legitimate customers just to increase the company’s profit is a dangerous trade-off.

Just a week ago I installed Fedora Core 3 on one of my test machines, and the installation wents very smoothly. Heck, in the time wasted so far trying to cleanup this notebook, I could have completely installed Linux and all the usual desktop applications.

Of course, the kid’s want to play games, and the games require Windows…