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WGA - just another form of DRM that ends up potentially harming legitimate users.

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This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.info.

An interesting thing happened over the weekend: Microsoft WGA servers, used by Windows Genuine Advantage to validate Windows installations as being legitimate, crashed. For 19 hours they were apparently inaccessible.

The upshot? For 19 hours some legitimate and legal users of Microsoft Windows were being told that their copy wasn't. Their copies of Windows crippled themselves until some time after the WGA servers came back up, at which point the computer did the moral equivalent of "never mind" and returned to full functionality.

While I support attempts to stop software piracy, this isn't it folks. Tools and technology that prevent legitimate users from doing what they need to do is simply wrong. As others have suggested, imagine a coordinated attack against the WGA servers - could they really bring the majority of Windows machines to their knees? It sure looks like it.

Let's face it, honest users don't deserve this. Paying customers shouldn't have their work or livelihood put in jeopardy by ill-conceived schemes that are poorly designed to ultimately protect only Microsoft's bottom line.

It's sad. Having worked there for so many years I know that Microsoft is full of passionate people that really, honestly care about the user experience and the quality of the products that Microsoft produces. Unfortunately those folks are apparently powerless against boneheaded decisions that lead to things like Windows Genuine Advantage.

WGA is trying to control the uncontrollable - not unlike any another form of digital rights management, if you ask me.

Ultimately WGA is perhaps better termed "LGA" or "MGA" for Linux or Mac Genuine Advantage - because it's those systems that apparently have the advantage. If this weekend's activity is any indication, if Microsoft continues to use heavy-handed tactics that harm honest customers and put those customers at risk, then they my find those same honest customers becoming honest customers of other solutions.

More and more, Linux and the Mac are viable alternatives to Windows, but Microsoft certainly isn't acting like it. In fact, this weekend probably did more for Microsoft alternatives than they could have hoped for themselves.

Microsoft needs to spend more time actually thinking of its customers than trying to figure out how to spin broken anti-piracy solutions into some so-called "advantage".

I'd love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.info and enter 11785 in the go to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me a comment. While you're there, browse over 1,200 technical questions and answers on the site.

Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.info.

Article C3132 - August 27, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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12 Comments
Chris
August 27, 2007 7:07 PM

A system that will lock itself if disconnected for a short while from a server. No thanks.

Jon Blake
August 28, 2007 4:01 AM

This article, and Leo's earlier article - WGA: Is it spyware - nicely summarizes the feelings of many legitimate users of MS products. MS's claim that WGA "helps" illegitimate users enjoy the benefits of a legal copy of MS products by nagging them to purchase a copy of the product is derisible and offensive. It's quite clear what the real purpose of WGA is, and MS sneaking it in as a "critical" update changed my mind about what O/S I run at home.

Now, half our home network PC's run Linux. OpenOffice works fine on all our MS Office Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. We haven't yet had any problems finding a Linux replacement for our favorite apps that run on WinXP, that provide equivalent or superior functionality.

MS appear to have a badly judged the market if they think they are on a winner with WGA.

Greg Bulmash
August 28, 2007 11:11 AM

Ironically, on Sunday, USA Networks' "The 4400" had an episode in which a super-powered virus was attacking all instances of the show's analog for Windows, making them unusable.

The problem/benefit (depending on your POV) of the real-life WGA server crash is that it happened over a weekend and was fixed quickly when it started bleeding into business hours. So for many people, it was just a hypothetical situation.

But it does give Anti-Microsoft activists and hackers a lovely and vulnerable target. DDOS the WGA servers for a month and maybe 40% of the Windows-powered machines in the world will be crippled and nagging. Then you'll see some real defections from the Microsoft camp, especially if it starts nailing Windows Server installs and shutting down e-commerce sites in droves.

But until such an issue is longer-lived and the collateral damage is more widespread, you'll have a few really incensed people moving to the Mac or Linux camps, while others will stay with Windows because it's easier than switching.

And to the guy who thinks having Open Office is enough. Nope. Get ACT! running well under WINE or DarWINE or there are a lot of corporate decision makers who will never migrate and won't let their underlings migrate while they stay behind.

Jon Blake
August 28, 2007 7:37 PM

Greg, what is ACT!

g taylor
August 31, 2007 6:26 PM

I agree, WGA is just another MS bottom line protector - it is NOT an advantage to the customer.

I have NOT installed WGA because of this - and have to go through the MS routine to install anything from them (I would rather go through the hoops then have WGA 'call home'.)

Roger Bienvenu
August 31, 2007 7:04 PM

WGA is just an extension of the hassle trying to replace your lost operating system when your PC crashes and you've lost the original disc. I gave up and loaded Ubuntu. I'm not that PC savy, but Ubuntu is user friendly.

GwenF
August 31, 2007 7:27 PM

I was one of those people who's XP PRO suddenly
needed reactivation ( wrongly claimed 3 hardward changes) ; reactivation refused to give code a page asking for $199.00 for valid XP PRO kept reloading.
An 'activation tech said call again and hit "0" ; it took 25 minutes of repeating "0" to reach a Microsoft TECH - who sent me to a new "temp" authenication page ,which athenticated then I had to start reactivation all over again.
4 hours of misery and frustration and if I didn't
need Windows to repair others' computers I wouldn't have it on any of my machines.

Michael Horowitz
August 31, 2007 9:06 PM

Microsoft has become too full of itself. Bill Gates was always afraid of the company turning into the IBM he dealt with back in his early days. Now, it has happened.

Even the very name WGA is an offense to anyone who understands its purpose. And the way it was and is forced on people via Windows update tells you all you need to know about the corporate attitude towards their users.

And the stupid design of WGA (there is no other word for it), one that doesn't have a built in warning period for situations such as this, is also very telling.

The persistently flat stock price, compared to other tech companies, tells you that investors see no real future for the company.

Joe Decker
September 5, 2007 7:46 AM

The problems of dealing with Microsoft is one reason why I bought a Mac last November to replace my old PC. I had heard about the WGA problems of legitimate users. Updates for my Mac come easily and without any hassle.

Sascha
September 7, 2007 4:15 AM

It's funny that a software company is acting so hard to prevent one of the things that made it successful in the software industry, namelly piracy. If they had this system in the beginning, then other, and possibly much better, OS would have been successful.

Like all DRM, the only ones affected are the honest ones. Music CD's and DVD's that don't play in the customer's equipment, failing software checks like the WGA case, obstacles against peoples legal rights, backdoors for illicit persons to gain access to your property (rootkits) etc.

Those people that this DRM is aimed at, they continue to listen to their illegally aquired music, view films, use copy-protected software without hazzle, etc.

In the end I believe that the money they spend developing copy-protection software should have much better use in the development of better products, and to hunt people that SELL pirated content, not the ones that eg. downloads Photoshop to inprove their home photos....

In the end, a software's success is based on how many that use it and recommend it...

Paul Mierop
September 7, 2007 4:18 PM

Yes Leo, I agree that MS has become to intrusive, and they are losing it. That has become one of the main reasons that my main internet browser has become Firefox. I upgrade MS Office to 2007 and that was another mistake I made and I am tempted to reinstall the 2003 version.
Paul

Dave Hollinshead
November 8, 2007 9:59 AM

WGA Server Down Re-visited?

My Vista machine was shut off on 9-27-07 and not turned on until 10-23-07. Shortly after tuning it on I got messages that my Windows were not activated. After trying to activate (the company who built it, assured me it had been activated), a message said my product had been activated and would I like to purchase another product key. Frustrated, I shutdown my computer, rebooted (shades of '95) and now my desktop had a message in the lower right corner that my widows was not genuine. Of course, I rebooted again. This time, I got a Thank you for activating my windows. Oh, the message about not a genuine windows went away.

I go through this about one a week, the continuing saga...

BTW, I've installed Unbuntu on my old laptop with no problem and am using it more and more.

Dave

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