In April 2008 Microsoft released a ‘needed’ update for Microsoft Office 2003 (and, I believe, XP and 2007). The only purpose appears to be to check if the software installed no your machine is “genuine”, at least as far as Microsoft is concerned.
In typical Microsoft style, it didn’t always work. I’ve noticed it popping up nag screens on machines I know where running genuine software, as supplied by major OEMs. Microsoft famously had the same problem with Windows XP Genuine Advantage, resulting in a certain major mail-order PC supplier’s machines having problems. Microsoft’s servers have also suffered faults, disallowing thousands of copies of their software for no reason whatsoever.
Latterly I’ve come across several machines running Office 2003 having problems. This used to be a worrying nag screen, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve heard about genuine software being deactivated in early April. Whether this comes about remains to be seen!
I’m not clear as to why this is happening. Is it a bad de-install of Office 2007 causing the problem? It seems to affect Vista machines which were pre-loaded with Office 2007 and moved on to site licensed versions of 2003 (because everyone hates 2007). It may also be interference caused by malware modifying Office 2003.
One worrying prospect is that Microsoft is unable to manage licenses for this old product and has simply messed up.
Basically, installing anything that might decide you’re running a pirated software and shut you down is a fundamentally bad plan, and best avoided. If you decline these “needed” updates it will prevent you from installing new features (other than critical security fixes) but you can carry on as normal. The risk outweighs the benefits.
Microsoft’s trend has been to restrict the installation of its software for many years, which is a disaster if it doesn’t work. It’s yet another reason for people to switch to the open source alternatives, such as OpenOffice. The cost of the licenses from Microsoft doesn’t bother me; it’s the risk of the self-destruct code they’re building in. If you’re a large corporation you can probably drag Microsoft in and tell them to fix it pronto, and pay compensation. It’s the small guy’s who’ll suffer.