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July 5, 2006

Microsoft’s antipiracy woes continue

Posted by David Hunter at 12:37 PM ET.

Microsoft’s effort to wring more money from its Office and Windows cash cows had heretofore handled the antipiracy aspect with rather a deft touch, but Microsoft has dug itself into a hole with the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) campaign and keeps on digging. Ed Bott:

Microsoft’s PR agency apparently e-mailed other tech reporters to try to spike the WGA “kill switch” story I reported on last week. Eric Lai of ComputerWorld got the memo and basically reprinted it with no analysis (“Microsoft denies WGA kill switch in Windows XP”). But Lai’s story does include one interesting new detail, a statistic that Microsoft confirmed in a follow-up e-mail to me:

Through its spokeswoman, Microsoft said that “80% of all WGA validation failures are due to unauthorized use of leaked or stolen volume license keys.”

Oh, really? Turn that statistic around: Microsoft said that 20% of all Windows users who fail the WGA validation test are not using leaked or stolen keys.

Bott’s attempt to get Microsoft to clarify the details of the remaining 20% didn’t result in anything very cogent other than Microsoft’s refusal to admit that there might be any false positives coming out of the WGA test. I don’t know about you, but I’d be real grumpy if I downloaded what appeared to be critical security patches and started getting bogus and annoying warnings that my legitimately purchased copies of Windows and Office were counterfeit and that’s exactly what is being reported.

Last week, there were folks who were enough upset by the whole WGA concept to go to court and now a new group has gotten themselves a lawyer and filed another lawsuit:

Here’s the new complaint, also filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle: PDF, 428 kb. It was filed on behalf of two Washington state businesses and three Seattle-area residents — and, like the first suit, it seeks class-action status.

Among other things, the latest complaint questions the tool’s accuracy in determining whether a copy of Windows is genuine or not…

But as with the first suit, the new complaint also gets into Microsoft’s method of delivering the WGA tool as part of its Automatic Updates system, which is more commonly used for distributing security patches. In addition to seeking unspecified monetary damages, the suit asks the court to require Microsoft to cooperate with antivirus and anti-spyware companies to help them create tools to remove WGA, and offer its own tool for doing the same thing.

I suspect the amusement has just started on this one.

While we’re on the subject, Microsoft has announced plans to more closely check their volume license customers as well – Microsoft To Enforce Volume License Key Compliance For Vista, Longhorn Server:

Enterprise customers can forget about the honor system Microsoft has in place for reporting Windows licenses they consume.

Starting with the release of Vista and “Longhorn” Windows server next year, customers will be required to register their volume license keys (VLK) with Microsoft within 30 days of acquisition and report their license usage on a monthly basis, executives said.

It’s a very different system than what is in place today, sources said.

“In the enterprise, there is no client activation. You get a master set of bits and a number of licenses. It’s always been up to you and an external auditor to verify that you didn’t deploy more copies than you had licensed,” said one source familiar with the plan, who asked not to be named. “This is designed to formalize the process.”

Microsoft is developing key management servers and changing the licensing process for the next generation Windows client and server, executives confirmed recently.

“We are making changes to the process to Vista and a new approach to VLK licensing,” Mike Sievert, corporate vice president of Windows client marketing for Microsoft told CRN during a recent interview. “We’re training our enterprise customers and we’ll do some key management for customers that’s more automated and makes reporting easier.”

At Tech Ed 2006, Ward Ralston, a senior technology product manager for Microsoft, confirmed the company is “introducing the notion of a key management server” for Windows “Longhorn” Server that will gives volume licensed customers a 30-day validation period to register their license keys. Customers must check in every 30 days to update the licenses used.

According to sources familiar with the plan, Microsoft’s key management server would keep track of the active CALs and servers customers deployed and send an audit report in every 30 day.

On its face, it doesn’t seem like a problem, but then neither did WGA. Of course, the real difficulty is the increasing complexity of dealing with Microsoft over licensing, but Microsoft says not to worry:

Changes made last week to Microsoft’s Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) licence management program have caused mixed feelings among users, but the company has insisted its licensing strategy is mainly aimed at helping users, not penalising them.

The Microsoft strategy is aimed at “helping companies get the maximum value out of their licences “, according to the company’s U.K. licensing program manager, Ram Dhaliwal, who said that the company is preparing a number of tools to help.

“We are creating a customer tool-kit,” Dhaliwal told ZDNet UK. “That is about a month away and part of that will be a three-step process to help with tools and policies. We used to have about 50 tools, and what we have done is just map them and put them in one place.”

I hope and presume he’s talking about business customers, but let’s face it, no one really wants a toolkit with 50 tools just to keep track of Microsoft licensing – they have better things to do.

Filed under General Business, Genuine Advantage, Legal, Licensing, Microsoft, Piracy, Technologies

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4 Responses to “Microsoft’s antipiracy woes continue”

  1. Media UnCut Says:

    Microsoft’s Genuine Advantage Spy Program

    What is very interesting is that Microsoft can pretty much any information it wants to by changing the query remotely.

  2. Microsoft to expand reach of Windows Genuine Advantage? -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] Despite all the bad publicity for Microsoft’s Windows Genuine Advantage antipiracy program, they are apparently forging ahead to expand the coverage according to Mary Jo Foley at Microsoft Watch: To date, with its Genuine Advantage anti-piracy programs, Microsoft has targeted consumers. Windows and Office users have been required to validate their products as “genuine” before being able to obtain many downloads and add-ons. [...]

  3. Microsoft details Windows Vista and Longhorn copy protection -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] There are also some changes in copy protection for volume license customers that are termed Microsoft Volume Activation 2.0. Joris Evers at ZDNet provides a terse explanation here, but basically there are a variety of options, all of which require more work by large customers and have already drawn some complaints and those complaints aren’t new. [...]

  4. Microsoft girds its loins for battle with Vista pirates -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] IDC suggests that “Microsoft’s anti-piracy campaign will drive customers toward Linux,” but Joe Wilcox disagrees and reasons that Windows XP is the pirate’s best friend. I suspect they are both right: Linux for political reasons in the developing world and XP because of its familiarity to pirates despite the newly strengthened Windows Genuine Advantage program. Then there’s the third option we are seeing now: head to head combat, Microsoft vs. the pirates. The pricey new versions of Vista make piracy an even more lucrative pastime and almost certainly guarantee more entertainment to come. Filed under OS – Client, Windows Vista, Legal, Technologies, General Business, Licensing, Piracy, Financial, Microsoft, Genuine Advantage [...]

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