WGA reappears on XP by design, Microsoft says

Notifications for Microsoft's antipiracy technology cannot be ignored or removed

Although users can tell Windows XP to ignore updates to Microsoft's antipiracy technology, Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) Notifications will be offered again the next time the component is upgraded, the company said Friday.

WGA Notifications, which was updated last month, cannot be permanently removed from the Windows Update list as a potential download, said David Lazar, director of Microsoft's Genuine Windows program, in an e-mail interview. That's true, even if Automatic Updates (AU) is set to the most restrictive posture of checking for updates but letting the user choose whether to download and install them -- and the Hide update option is selected.

"When there is a new release, such as there was Feb. 21, the update will be offered," said Lazar. "If you refuse the installation, and tell AU not to notify again, it will not be offered again until the next new release, generally 90-120 days. This is a standard approach with AU, not a new policy."

Some users must have missed the memo; several have posted messages on official Microsoft newsgroups commenting on the reappearance of WGA Notifications.

WGA Notifications flags counterfeit copies and displays on-screen messages to that effect at log-on and while the system is running. In Windows XP, it's a separate download -- another piece actually conducts the validation process -- but in Vista, it's baked into that operating system's Software Protection Platform and cannot be declined.

Notifications specifically, and the WGA process in general, has drawn fire from users and analysts for a variety of reasons, including a fear that the technology may incorrectly identify a legitimate copy of Windows as bogus. Sometimes, through no fault of the user, the wrong product activation key can be used to unlock a legitimate copy of Windows XP.

Complaints about WGA have prompted Microsoft to make several changes since last June. Then, the company reduced the frequency with which the program "phones home" to Microsoft servers as it checks for phony copies.

Previously, Microsoft said it plans to upgrade WGA Notifications every three to four months. The reappearance of the tool on the Windows Update list is part of that.

Once installed, WGA Notifications cannot be removed through Windows XP's Add or Remove Programs Control panel, although the utility shows up there. That, added Lazar, has been the case since last summer; before June, users were able to eliminate Notifications. "The uninstall instructions were provided for the prerelease (pre-June 2006) versions only," Lazar clarified. "The GA versions were not meant to be uninstallable."

Current information on WGA Notifications is available on Microsoft's support site..

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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