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I was wondering about computers yesterday, and I got onto the subject of pirating operating systems. The place that I work in has a small network of computers, about 15-20 used by employees. As the employees work, sometimes they get bored and will go onto sites that could potentially have malware, viruses, etc. To combat this, the computer technician has a 'ghost' computer that no one ever uses.

He will back up this computer, and copy the disk image / back up to all of the computers. When doing this, there is the potential to replace every thing on the computer, including the activation key and things like that. I was wondering, if the copy were to wipe the computer entirely and not just specified folders, if that would technically be pirating software because the same exact computer is copied 15-20 times?

Entension: So, if the computers all had separate keys in the beginning, which were all paid for, and then they all switched to one UPC/activation key, 14-19 would be left over, and then those 14-19 could technically be used on another machine? I was under the assumption that every computer had a seperate key.

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With respect to the extension of your original question; the number of installed operating systems can not legally exceed the number of licensed copies of the operating system that you own. The fact that you have "spare" or "left over" keys has no bearing. – Sean C. Sep 26 '11 at 13:44
If they are all Dell computers with the same OS, say XP Pro, then they can do this legally as Dell uses a Volume License Key on all their PCs as do other manufacturers like HP, Sony etc. They would have to be the same brand and the same OS and version. The same hold true to what ChrisF siad, as Enterprise licenses are also VLK. – Moab Sep 26 '11 at 16:08
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Nuking a computer in event of suspected Malware infection is the option we take in my workplace (School). It's quicker than trying to clear out the malware by hand.

The legalaties of Windows is a very strange beast, but I would say as long as the company is licensed for the version of windows that is being deployed (that is, it has 20x computers with OEM stickers) on the side then you should be ok, however saying that I Am Not A Lawyer.

If you are concerned, ask him. If he can't give you a decent, straight answer then it's possible it's a dodgey windows version and time to think about moving. (Would I be happy working at a place with illegal software? Not really. Would I be happy working as a sysadmin who is expected to use pirated software? No. Because it's MY ass on the line).

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Look into Software Restriction Policies as well as setting up Group Policy from a baseline, makes it virtually impossible for students to get the computer infected with malware as they don't have write access to the default paths. And yeah, also update the installed programs to minimize exploiting vulnerabilities... – Tom Wijsman Sep 26 '11 at 13:07
Thing is, it's not always the students. The Staff (who are allowed to take their laptops home) are a bigger risk. I will, however, look into SRP. – tombull89 Sep 26 '11 at 13:08
On Windows XP, this is called AppLocker. You can find it in the Local Security Policy. On my laptop I have this set and I added my downloads folder (which is scanned for viruses), so it's impossible for one to run an executable (or whatever extensions you configure) from USB / Temp / AppData and so on which is pretty effective. I had to explicitly add the Minecraft path... :) – Tom Wijsman Sep 26 '11 at 13:13
(We're on 7). Sounds like a good idea. – tombull89 Sep 26 '11 at 13:15
AppLocker is Windows 7 only. It effectively replaces SRP (which still exists for backwards compatability). – edusysadmin Feb 13 '12 at 19:33


As long as your company holds an Enterprise license for your 15-20 computers this is perfectly legal and sensible thing to do.

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When it comes to the Ghosting of machines, you can technically have multiple backup images of your OS on multiple hard drives. As long as those images/drives are not in use, it's 100% OK with Microsoft. All they care about is the number of actively installed "seats" on working computers. – Doltknuckle Sep 26 '11 at 15:34
+1: OEM keys are tied to the hardware itself, not that instance of the OS. – surfasb Sep 27 '11 at 5:09

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