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And You Thought WGA Was A Mess ...

Oh dear.

As if the furor over Windows Genuine Advantage -- which just keeps going and going -- wasn’t enough, Microsoft said this week that Vista (and Longhorn server, if it ever comes out) will include a whole slew of new, built-in anti-piracy protections. Vista, with these new protections embedded in it, will shut down or severely cripple critical elements of the operating system (think Aero and Internet Explorer) if a user’s copy trips the anti-piracy alarm as being unregistered or improperly activated. And this isn’t just a consumer thing. Business users and partners are going to have to mess with the new activation scheme, too. In fact, the whole thing is quite complicated, as Mary Jo Foley’s excellent Q&A explains ... and it’s eventually coming to every Microsoft product.

Let’s get the obligatory stuff out of the way right now. Yes, piracy is a problem. It costs partners money. It costs Microsoft money. It drives costs up for consumers and businesses. It’s rampant in "emerging markets" such as China and Russia and it’s not exactly unusual in the U.S. and Western Europe. Microsoft has a right and a responsibility to protect itself and its partners against piracy. Fine.

But you know what’s coming next: the freak out. As well it should. There is, as you might imagine, a lot of opposition to this new anti-piracy scheme, much of it hand-wringing over how much power Microsoft will have over its massive user base -- which includes pretty much everybody in the world -- and head-scratching over whether any of Microsoft’s new measures effectively amounts to a Vista "kill switch" (thanks to Michael for the link) that Microsoft can use to pull the computing rug out from under users whenever it darn well pleases. Some even question whether Redmond’s new anti-piracy effort will make potential customers think twice (or maybe three times, considering that many would probably have thought twice to begin with) before investing in Vista.

All of those concerns are legitimate, but the main problem, as we’ve said here before, is this: WGA doesn’t work, and very little about Microsoft’s record for reliability with first releases of software gives users and partners any reason to be confident that this new anti-piracy stuff will do what it’s supposed to do without being a massive and completely unnecessary pain in the you-know-where. In other words, expect problems, and expect Microsoft to have to scramble to solve them. And maybe enjoy using XP for a little while longer. At least it’ll keep working.

What do you think about Microsoft’s new built-in anti-piracy functions? Have any (more) WGA horror stories? Tell me here or at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 10/05/2006 at 1:19 PM


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