Windows Genuine Advantage Kicks in for Real
Microsoft has gone live with Windows Genuine Advantage 1.0, and has made it
mandatory for all users wanting to use its popular "Update" sites.
WGA, as it's called, is a program aimed at validating that each user who connects
to and downloads files from Windows Update, Microsoft Update and the Microsoft
Download Center has a valid, bought-and-paid-for copy of Windows.
As of now, when a user first visits one of the update sites, Microsoft will
download an ActiveX control that will perform the validation functions automatically
by examining the computer's registry. If Windows is validated, it will
store a special download key on the PC for future verification.
That should help make WGA more palatable for users. And it's a step up
from the beta when users were required to input their 25-digit key license or
certificate of authenticity number to validate.
The move is part of Microsoft's efforts to lower piracy rates for its
software. Microsoft claimed, in a statement, that as many as 40 million users
participated in WGA's 10-month beta test.
The intent behind WGA is that if a user doesn't have a lawfully-obtained
copy of Windows, he or she shouldn't be eligible for free updates. There
is an exception, however. All users, even those who have not authenticated their
copies of Windows, will still have free access to company-issued security patches
via the Download Center or Automatic Updates.
Additionally, Microsoft is offering what might be seen as a cross between an
employee discount sales promotion coupled with a bounty on pirates for users
who unknowingly purchased pirated software and who turn in the pirate they got
"Qualifying customers who submit a piracy report may receive a genuine
copy of Windows XP Home Edition for $99 or Windows XP Professional for $149,"
Microsoft's announcement states.
"Microsoft is taking a carrot and stick approach by offering customers
freebees and other incentives to validate their software," said JupiterResearch
operating system analyst Joe Wilcox on his Weblog. But he admitted to being
troubled by what he says is Microsoft's intent to revalidate users'
computers every few months.
"Unless Microsoft modified its plans since briefing [me], essentially
a revalidation would take place every 90 days," Wilcox said. That could
conceivably result in previously valid installations being invalidated, which
he said is a concern. "While sympathizing with Microsoft's legitimate
right to go after pirates, I would caution that invalidation of previously valid
systems could cause some customer problems," he added.
Additionally, while Microsoft insists that the validation process does not
collect any information that can be used by Microsoft to identify or contact
individual users, that is unlikely to quell criticism from privacy advocates.
Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.