Windows Genuine Advantage is an anti-piracy tool loathed by many, tolerated by some, and even appreciated by others. How you feel about it may depend in part on whether or not you’ve been caught in its snares: the “authentic software” validation tool is known to have falsely identified thousands of “pirated” Vista installs.
As Microsoft steps up its war against piracy, the company has decided to slightly nuance Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA). Rather than identify users as either in the clear or not, the company has added a third classification for users who set off some, but not all of WGA’s undisclosed piracy-detection functionality. Users will now find that Windows XP installs are labeled as genuine, non-genuine or “not sure.”
While Microsoft has not responded to requests for comment, it’s quite obvious what is going on here: Microsoft has added “not sure” as a way of cutting down on the number of false positives associated with WGA. As many as one in five PCs were failing WGA checks, but this new setting should both reduce this and give Microsoft the chance to investigate further the kinds of things that are landing folks in the “not sure” category.
Although the Windows Genuine Advantage Notification tool is “optional,” Microsoft is in the process of pushing out the tool as a “critical” and thus automatic update (affectionately dubbed WGA Notifications 1.7 KB905474). The update has been known about for over a month, but users are just now seeing it show up as a critical update to Windows XP.
WGA has stirred controversy in recent months as the software was revealed to phone home to Microsoft, raising no shortage of privacy concerns. As I have argued, the move from a one-time authenticity check to constant monitoring (which is what WGA represents) is driven by Microsoft’s modular OS plans, exemplified by Anytime Upgrade on Windows Vista. Post-installation exploits will become increasingly common as Microsoft and other companies turn to selling modular add-ons online, and Microsoft apparently feels as though WGA is one of the best ways to secure that business. Last week Steve Ballmer made it quite clear that Microsoft expects WGA to generate more sales for Microsoft, especially in developing nations.
WGA isn’t likely to ever make many friends, but the company knows that it will earn fewer enemies if the tool doesn’t accuse the wrong people of piracy. In the meantime, if you received a “not sure” rating from WGA, I’d love to hear from you.
Microsoft, WGA, Windows Genuine Advantage, Windows, Software, Piracy, Anti-Piracy