Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

It is critical that Windows is able to keep itself updated, even if that means verifying your installation with Microsoft.

I bought a used IBM Thinkpad T42 a year ago with XP Professional already installed on it and no CD. Now, I just noticed that my automatic updates setting has been off and I'm wondering if the original owner may have done that. Maybe this XP is illegal or something. So I'm thinking to verify if my XP is legal by using either the Microsoft menu option, "Is my Windows XP illegal?" or perhaps by downloading the Microsoft online tool. If I do use the tool, I assume it will check with the Microsoft website. If my XP shows that it's illegal, would it get shut down by the process? In short, will I lose my XP from this laptop?

In this excerpt from Answercast #44, I look at a case where Windows updates are off on a used computer and how to get them back on.

Windows verification

The short answer is no. I don't believe that you will.

You may experience some reduced functionality: reduced functionality that may seem very similar to what you have right now – in that you won't be able to get any of the Windows updates.

What I would do in your case is:

  • Turn on Windows updates and see what happens.

  • If they start working, I would simply not worry about it any more.

The problem that you wanted to solve – getting Windows Updates – has been solved and the issue of whether or not your copy of XP is legal or not (it's probably legal at that point) is kind of moot. It really doesn't matter.

Check for legality

You can run those tools. If you do so, what will happen if it's determined to be illegal is:

  • Some functionality will be reduced;

  • But you will be given the opportunity to contact Microsoft and see what steps are available to legalize that installation.

I do recommend, at some point, that if Windows Updates does not start working for you, you're going to have to go down that path.

  • I don't recommend leaving Windows Updates off by any stretch.

You are putting yourself at risk. At that point, it's probably worth a few dollars to go ahead and make sure that your Windows XP is legal:

  • If that means getting a legal key from Microsoft;

  • Or if it means purchasing a copy of XP on the secondary market;

I honestly believe that those two are worth it.

So, that's what I think you should do: just go ahead and turn on Windows updates and see what happens.

Article C5702 - August 16, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Scott Currier
August 17, 2012 9:59 AM

Fortunately they don't shut you down but you will get messages at the bottom of the screen advising you of the issue. The information that I got on your notebook is that the t42 is a Pentium M at 1.8 gHz. Thus you're not going to put much money into.

I'd check using the menu option "Is this copy of windows legal" to see if it is legal.

If it is legal, turn on the automatic updates. Mind you, you'll need to have SP3 for the auto updates to work.

If it isn't legal, then I would not turn on the automatic updates.

At that point it's time to look at your options. You could probably find an OEM version of XP online pretty cheap.

If you are using a name brand antivirus and antispyware program such as Norton or McAfee I would probably do nothing and rely on your anti virus and anti spyware program to keep you safe, which they're likely to do.

I have had good luck backing up and restoring partitions with Macrium Reflect. Leo is right, after hearing him mention the program a bunch of times I finally tried it, it's very straightforward and is easy to use. Restoring images was flawless and saved me a lot of time. Instead of fixing problems, I simply went back to the last good backup.

So, recommend putting a backup plan in place if you haven't already.

Best to save your money if you can for your next notebook.

Good luck.

A Richter
August 17, 2012 11:11 AM

It may depend on the user's jurisdiction: In Romania, you could get away with practically anything illegal on your computer. I saw company presentations there when the projection screen clearly showed MS messages about "unauthorized copies", and no one would bat an eyelid. (Check out "Ramnicu Valcea"; it is a hoot!)

On a different tack: XP is well beyond its prime. If you go online, it would be much safer to run Ubuntu as long as you do not mind. Linux is the best rejuvenator of old machines.

Pearl Rigg
August 18, 2012 1:08 AM

Unknown to me I had an illegal copy of XP proffessional on a computer i bought.
All was ok until one day about 9 months later when I switched on my pc and had a message from Microsoft telling me my Windows were illegal and i had 3 days to purchase a legal copy from them or I would not be able to use XP any longer. I purchased it immediately online for £93. This was over a year ago.
If updates are switched on, microsoft will eventually be "on to" pirate copies of windows.
They also know if you put a new hard drive in the pc and don`t register it. I`m not very pc literate so cannot explain in technical terms.
But Microsoft DO shut pirate copies down if they eventually find out about it. Hope this helps.

August 18, 2012 11:30 PM

If OS legality and/or updates are a requirement, anyone purchasing a computer, whether used or new, should compulsorily verify the same from the seller and even take an undertaking or liability declaration.

Also, for older machines, Linux Ubuntu (its free) is the best option as suggested by "A Richter" in a comment above.

August 21, 2012 10:13 AM

Download the AUTOPATCHER program (Free). It will get the Windows updates without checking for genuine.

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