Windows Genuine Advantage: Good news and bad

Is Windows Genuine Advantage, Microsoft's anti-piracy initiative/utility that denies you some Windows updates and enhancements if you're using a pirated copy of Windows, getting less annoying...or more ominious? It depends on which news you care to pay attention to today.

On the plus side, Microsoft has responded to gripes about the way WGA's Notifications function (which is nagware that squawks if your copy of Windows isn't genuine) makes daily connections to Microsoft servers and its vague explanations of what it's doing with a new version that phones home less frequently, with an updated end user license agreement. If you don't have WGA Notifications already and need it--which you will, if you want to pick and choose updates rather than having Windows install 'em all via Auto Updates--you'll get this new version. If you have the old one, you can get the update or delete WGA Notifications (but if you choose the latter route you will, essentially, cripple your copy of Windows).

So Microsoft has made WGA a little less intrusive and a little more above-board. What's the bad news? Over at ZDNet, Ed Bott has blogged about the possibility of Microsoft using WGA to disable copies of Windows that the technology deems to be pirated. It's just a rumor, but Ed is understandably creeped out by the fact that Microsoft has yet to deny it. (His posting makes reference to a number of instances of WGA malfunctioning and messing up PCs.)

As I've said before, I have no sympathy for people who knowingly swipe software, and wouldn't be outraged if WGA rained on their parade--but speaking as someone who's had both WGA and Microsoft's product activation technology misbehave on me, the notion of a Microsoft product having the ability to render my copy of Windows useless leaves me less than gruntled. I already have visions of WGA accidentally disabling legit copies of the OS, and even if there's a way to undo the damage, it would involve paying customers wasting their time.

And as long as I'm complaining: Microsoft's whole WGA campaign remains nakedly disingenuous (is that an oxymoron?). The press release I linked to earlier in this message (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2006/jun06/06-27WGA.mspx) speaks at length about the problems that pirated software causes for businesses and users, and persists in the notion that WGA exists principally to help Microsoft's customers. It never once says, "We're doing this to prevent people from stealing the software we've spent millions to develop."

Note to Microsoft: You have millions of customers who have paid you...and who might be a little more willing to cheerfully help you with your anti-piracy measures if you spoke to them honestly, directly, and respectfully. In other words, as if you considered them to be intelligent adults...

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Harry McCracken

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