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August 27, 2007

Microsoft WGA goes AWOL

Posted by David Hunter at 12:15 PM ET.

Just what you need on a hot summer weekend – Microsoft’s Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) online copy protection system goes on the blink and now your Windows XP or Vista machine thinks it is running an ripped off copy of the operating system.

Gregg Keizer sums up the embarrassing SNAFU at ComputerWorld:

Microsoft Corp. has blamed an unspecified server problem for a 19-hour stretch during which paying users of Windows XP and Vista were accused by the company’s Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation system of running pirated software. Any Vista system fingered during the episode was stripped of some features, including the operating system’s Aero graphical interface.

As of Saturday at 3 p.m. EDT, Microsoft said the problem had been fixed.

“We are aware it is a server-side issue,” said Phil Liu, a Microsoft program manager in the WGA group. “[But] the cause is unknown at this current time.”

“Customers who received an incorrect validation response can fix their system by revalidating on our site,” said Alex Kochis, senior product manager of WGA, in a blog posting. The site Kochis referred to is the Genuine Microsoft Software home page, which includes links to validation tests for Windows and Microsoft Office. “After successfully revalidating, any affected system should be rebooted to ensure the genuine-only features are restored,” Kochis continued.

Microsoft says not to worry because “very few users customers were affected”, which is cold comfort for those that were and belies the real issue which is that if you are going to insist that copy protection be a integral part of the operating system, it had better bulletproof. If that’s too hard, then take it out. Harry McCracken phrases it more lyrically at PC World:

Microsoft will, presumably, patch up whatever technical snafu was responsible for the outage. But the fact this could happen at all shows that Windows Genuine Advantage is fundamentally flawed. I think Microsoft owes its customers more than an explanation: I think it owes them a copy-protection scheme that doesn’t uneccesarily inconvenience them, never accuses them of having pirated software when they don’t, cannot disable functionality on a legimate copy of the operating system, and isn’t marketed with a patronizing campaign that tells us it exists for our benefit, not Microsoft’s.

In other words, “We’re sorry and it won’t happen again” is not going to be an adequate response this time around. If Microsoft can’t make WGA work, it needs to eliminate it.

I’m not holding my breath.

Update 8/29: Microsoft reports that the problem was human error.

Filed under General Business, Genuine Advantage, Legal, Microsoft, OS - Client, Public Relations, Technologies, Windows Vista, Windows XP

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One Response to “Microsoft WGA goes AWOL”

  1. Rob Harmer Says:

    If you think that the DRM activation issues that users face with WGA, OGA and DRM under Vista are a concern, wait until every other software vendor (ISVs) starts coming up with varied combinations and derivatives on how they will “activate/control” your PC.

    From October ISVs will be able to license, using similar techniques to WGA/OGA/DRM using Software Licensing and Protection Services (SLP Services).


    When this happens it will be a disaster beyond proportions unspeakable as the ISVs come up with their own “innovative ways” to turn on/off software to control licensing usage!

    Whilst it might be true that Microsoft is tracking your PID via a software manifest with encrypted hardware details, I’d rather trust Microsoft to do that safely than a small time software developer who has weak systems control and leaves backdoors open for attack, just so they can activate/track their own ISV licenses using DRM.

    Microsoft needs to be given, by business houses, the very clear message (I am not saying jump to Open Source either by making this statement) that the software once licensed correctly and installed needs to be left stable and alone so that we can run the business without interference and without further activation/reactivation/validation. ie; activate once then go away and let us run the business under our control !

    Letting the SLP source code out to ISVs is a huge risk that we all need to be very wary of and stamp out as vocally as we can!

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