The validation can either be online or by entering a key. Either method is fine. You can even give people a free ride for 90 days.
But until an initiative like this is announced, please spare me these "Consumer Action Days" and the like - one was held on December 3 - when patsies are paraded to try and make us, the gullible public, believe that Redmond is out with swords to cut down software counterfeiters.
At every one of these PR exercises, which are solely designed to make people believe that Microsoft is doing The Right Thing (TM), we are told that there is some kind of downside to running a copy of Windows that you bought off that man in a raincoat ("psst, psst, pirated software...") in a park.
This simply isn't true. You can get all three service packs for Windows XP at numerous locations on the web without downloading it from the Windows Update site. With those three service packs, XP is about as secure as it will get. Bear in mind that security is always a relative term where Windows is concerned.
I've pointed this out in the past but let me repeat what Bill Gates, one of the co-founders of Microsoft, said about piracy: "Although about 3 million computers get sold every year in China, but people don't pay for the software... Someday they will, though. As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They'll get sort of addicted, and then we'll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade."
Let the good folk at Microsoft, who conduct these campaigns year in and year out, hold a couple of seminars on this Gatesian pronouncement and tell us why the great leader's stance has changed. You, gentle reader, shouldn't have to go searching on the net or anywhere else to find out.