back to article Windows Genuine Advantage cries wolf (again)

Over the weekend, thousands of Microsoft customers who tried to download patches or updates for Windows were falsely accused of running a pirated version of Windows. Microsoft blamed the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) glitch on server problems, since fixed. WGA is an anti-piracy program which determines the validity of Windows …

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  1. Morely Dotes

    Why is anyone surprised?

    "Microsoft blamed the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) glitch on server problems, since fixed."

    This is what happens when you try to run a commercial service on a Windows server. You can't have 100% uptime on a server that has to reboot every time you apply a security patch.

  2. Tom Silver badge

    I call BS

    "The goal is to give these people a tool to let them know they have been victimized and can do something about it."

    If that were true it would only pop up a warning "to let you know" that you MAY have been "victimized".

    As soon as they start turning stuff off they are saying something quite different.

  3. Rick Dickinson

    Finally, they admit it!

    "WGA's goal is not to punish the people who purchase these programs; they, of all people are the most victimized," wrote Alex Kochis, WGA senior product manager in the WGA blog. "The goal is to give these people a tool to let them know they have been victimized and can do something about it."

    It's refreshing to hear someone at Microsoft admit this, for once.

    Now, if we can only convince Microsoft to *stop* victimizing people, we'll have really got somewhere.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    WGA is an unsubtle euphemism

    "The goal is to give these people a tool to let them know they have been victimized and can do something about it."

    The customer is victimized by Microsoft's spyware scheme as soon as they allow it to be installed onto their system. Genuine Advantage? Who are they kidding?

    If IT laws were as mature as other legal areas, this scam would be illegal. A class-action suit is well overdue.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Get used to it!

    Since everything Microsoft going thru having some kind of WGA bolted on - this is only the beginning...

    MS Life Support: Sorry your license could not be validated at this time, certain features will be limited or reduced. Stopping "Air" service until validation can be confirmed.

  6. Tom Haczewski

    I had that once...

    ...last year when I was running XP. Needless to say it was quite a surprise - like you say, Tom, it doesn't even suggest that you MAY have been 'victimized' but it basically points the accusing finger and shuts things down! When you pay that sort of money for an OS you don't really expect that sort of *ahem* 'customer service'.

    It's the equivalent of buying a car, then the dealer spotting you in the road and saying 'HANG ON A SEC, I don't think you bought that car - lets just take away your servicing, air con, sat nav - all the lovely features until we get this straightened out'.

    Not entirely fair!

  7. Christopher Smith

    Reduced functionality

    Can someone explain to me how intentionally making "some features [...] temporarily unavailable" is different from setting the system for reduced functionality?

  8. Bracken Dawson

    Why why why?

    Why not just Check each version of Vista once, and then leave it alone!

    99.99999999999% if users won't have a clue how to use a crack etc

    DRM is NOT be as big of an issue as M$, RIAA etc. make it out to be!

  9. joe_bruin

    Absurd doublespeak

    "WGA's goal is not to punish the people who purchase these programs; they, of all people are the most victimized,"

    What? How am I, a paid-for Windows user, victimized when someone else pirates Windows? In what bizarro world does that make sense? I am victimized when THE SOFTWARE I PAID FOR intentionally disables functionality THAT I PAID FOR because Microsoft's unwanted agent on my machine, WGA, defaults to the assumption that I am a criminal.

    "The goal is to give these people a tool to let them know they have been victimized and can do something about it."

    I know I've been victimized when I have to drive over to my parents' house and reactivate their computer. And I can do something about it: their next computer will be a Mac*. Thanks for informing me, Microsoft.

    *and I hate Macs, so don't paint me as a fan-boy.

  10. Joerg

    The WGA stuff it's against customers and should not exist

    WGA as well as any DRM-type control over customers should not exist. It's a real shame that a giant monopoly like Microsoft has been allowed to not only get away with this but that many more retail and shareware software business have been allowed to follow trend and turn into a net of spies. Microsoft is doing that type of things that only secret agencies should be allowed to and it goes even further in a Nazi-type way, which is even more a shame.

    Until there will be no judges nor politicians brave enough to say a clear and loud NO to Bill Gates and his staff thing will keep getting worse for everyone, which includes both normal people customers and business/Microsoft competitors of any size.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's Official: Microsoft labels Windows as Crippleware

    It's nice to see the WGA Senior Product Manager officially label Microsoft Windows, in not so many words, as Crippleware.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You know what they say....

    ....shit happens.

    Build a bridge, etc...

  13. Jonas Taylor

    Irritating...

    I dual-boot XP and Vista (mainly because Vista performance is quite poor) and so today I decided to boot up Vista to play Bioshock in DX10 mode... except it wasn't quite that simple. Even though I had used it was fine several days ago Vista told me that my LEGITIMATE copy of Vista was not legal and I needed to reactivate - I had heard about the issues so I clicked reactivate and... nope, it wouldn't work. I had to ring up Microsoft and type in a 48 digit code at which point... nope, it again wouldn't work so they had to connect me to an operator (a polite but dull guy, sounded Indian). I then read out the 48 digit code to him, repeating several sections [for some reason] after which he (very slowly) read out the 48 digit key I needed to activate Windows. I then booted up to find a message on the desktop saying that the copy of Windows wasn't legal - that was slightly disconcerting but a restart cured that. All this for what reason?

    I wouldn't mind so much if it wasn't for the accusation that I was running an illegal copy of Windows. All the pirates out there are happily bypassing security with minimal effort and yet I was here at 3am ringing up an Indian bloke to exchange 48-digit codes at a sluggish pace just to boot into Windows. Something's not right with this situation. At least the call was free. *shrugs*

  14. Tom Silver badge

    Need to get this distrubuted into Washington DC

    And then have it hit congress all at once. Especiially in EVERY congressman's office. Maybe we could get the proper legislation then.

    The idea here is to register an additional ID that is also one that belongs to the "435" (even better is the site license). We can only hope!

  15. whmitty

    And the beat goes on...

    Even with all the grousing about Microsoft most IT shops will likely abandon M$ on a onesey-twosey basis. But leave they will as more shops have success with the alternative systems available. Making such transitions typically requires considerable planning, time and financial resources along with new personnel and/or re-training of current staff. So we may as well settle in for a few more years of the juggernaut and let the Redmond Renegades shoot themselves in their collective feet as they continue to release bloated buggy code. If nothing else it should be interesting to see how many more "innovations" of the graphical interface they'll be able to foist on the world as bold invention.

  16. John Stag

    Another perfect example....

    Another perfect example of how DRM, etc., only ever hurts the legal users.

    I doubt the pirates were inconvenienced by this.

  17. Tim Bates

    In 10 years?

    What I'm always wondering about WGA is what happens in another 5 or so years when Windows XP is 10 years old? Are they planning on running WGA for XP users forever? Or do they intend to release a patch (aka crack) for older software as they end support for it?

    See, the thing is... Some people still run old OSes... I even boot up Win3.1 sometimes for a few reasons. When XP gets that old, will MS still let me activate it and download patches? What about when Vista hits that age with it's "improved" protection?

  18. Adam White

    "...features intended for use only on genuine systems..."

    So everything else is fair game? Awesome. And they say Microsoft doesn't support Free Software.

  19. Ronny Cook

    Re: Why why why

    > Why not just Check each version of Vista once, and then leave it alone!

    Because then people could build one system, image it, then dump the image onto as many systems as they wanted.

    Not that I agree with their tactics.

    ...Ronny

  20. Mats Koraeus

    Re: Reduced functionality

    @Christopher Smith

    "Can someone explain to me how intentionally making "some features [...] temporarily unavailable" is different from setting the system for reduced functionality?"

    Sounds like you haven't had the "pleasure" of seeing Vista's reduced functionality in action. ;)

    When that happens, it's not just "some features" that no longer work -- *none* of them do, with the exception of Explorer, which MS kindly allows you to use to get your most important stuff off the system before you need to reboot...

  21. Ritesh Tendulkar

    @Irritating..

    "yet I was here at 3am ringing up an Indian bloke to exchange 48-digit codes at a sluggish pace "

    Could you please enlighten me what exactly is wrong with the bloke being Indian here?

  22. Cameron Colley

    Nobody to blame but cheapskate vendors.

    If it weren't for the fact that hardware vendors won't ship Linux drivers, and software vendors are slow to offer support also, we wouldn't have this problem -- because people could simply wipe Windows and never look back, I know I would.

  23. Ian Emery Silver badge

    Blah!!

    WGA has not worked on my genuine copy of windows XP for months, every time I try it it claims it is out of date and to down load the newest version; IT IS THE NEWEST VERSION!!

    piece of cr@p!!!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    MS clearly have no clue how to write robust software

    Rather than going ape and starting to point the finger in the case of loss of the server, WGA could easily wait for (say) 30 consecutive failures to validate before taking any punitive action. A system doesn't need 100% uptime from its server to be robust and stable - just to survive an event that apparently does happen from time to time by trying again later. What difference would a few days of full functionality on a pirate system make really? Small price to pay for not screwing your customers around.

    WGA is just another brittle system from a cowboy outfit, and another obvious reason not to use Windows.

  25. Tom Peach

    WGA

    "The experience of a system that failed validation in this instance was that some features intended for use only on genuine systems were temporarily unavailable."

    Are they implying that some features are intended for use on 'pirate' versions?

    Server outages and update problems are inevitable, I know Ubuntu has suffered them before. It's a shame MS shoot themselves in the foot by adding an application that adds no useful functionality, it's inevitable it will cause problems from time to time.

  26. tranquil

    I'm not angry with MS, just disappointed. And angry.

    I was affected, got flagged as running pirated Vista on Monday, lost the pretty stuff, and had "this copy of windows is not genuine" embedded in the bottom left of my screen, was able to verify on Sunday.

    What upsets me here, is that In the mean time I logged a complaint by email and the response I got (on Monday) made no mention of there being an outage at there end - this is the first I'm hearing about it.

    In the end theres no harm done, and I'm a little surprised as too how much of the OS worked for a non genuine version, but it was annoying to get a "you may be a victim of software counterfeiting" pop-up every time I loaded anything.

    I also bet a lot of PC manufactures (as advised on the MS website) got inundated people complaining they'd been sold a PC with a fake OS.

    I don't mind MS having these kind of controls, I accept its necessary for closed source software, but it has to work.

  27. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Instant justice

    The next will be automatic printout of a subpoena to the hapless user to appear before Microsoft Court of Justice for mandatory sentencing and execution by hanging. The hapless users in Texas will be spared the inconvenience of having to appear before Mr Balmer J and will be administered an automatic lethal injection through HDMI-enabled, AACS+ protected biometric fingerprint scanner/injector, followed by the Blue Screen of Death.

    The system is practically ready for roll out except that they cannot get USB printers to work...

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For the benefit of the people

    This MS WGA speak all sounds very peoples republic to me.

    Reduced functionality because they are victimised? ehh I just dont get it?

    12,000 affected systems, Sounds like enough affected users for a rather large claim of compensation... thats a $100 an hour tech call out each of course!

    Just goes to show that it really is not an advantage to the genuine user!

    (the WGA server was set to reduced functionality for the benefit of the many.)

  29. Matt Milford

    Badly Designed

    Is it not more of an issue that if your PC cannot connect to MSes servers that WGA craps out and says it's a pirated copy?

    Failing to have a valid copy and cannot connect to servers are 2 different scenarios, not one. Would it not make more sense for the OS to say "cannot connect to WGA servers", and then not really make a fuss of it for a few days, when it could try again? If servers have been gone for a week, then it wouldn't be unreasonable to say that this might be (I stress might be) a pirated copy and somehow access to the servers has been blocked to prevent WGA notifications, and could you ring MS and have a chat about it.

    Not only would this reduce frustration of many users, its bound to save money, as a great number of people are going to ring up about it as they have, to manually validate their OS. Not to mention saving face, and considering a lot of the comments made about MS on this site, that might not be a bad thing.

  30. Dam

    What's the fuss about?

    I could dl updates all right myself.

    Oh wait, I'm running ubuntu.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wictimized, but not punished?

    "WGA's goal is not to punish the people who purchase these programs; they, of all people are the most victimized," wrote Alex Kochis, WGA senior product manager in the WGA blog. "The goal is to give these people a tool to let them know they have been victimized and can do something about it."

    So, I've been victimized, but not punished? Is it only because English is not my primary language that I fail to see a big difference between the two? Am I not being (albeit momentarily) unjustifiably punished because of a glitch in WGA? Assumed guilty until MS fixes a problem that prevents me from proving otherwise?

    OK, we should ‘victimize’ (but not punish!), MS by refusing to purchase WGA-infected products, thus ‘giving them a tool, so the can do something about it’.

  32. A J Stiles

    @Tom Haczewski

    "It's the equivalent of buying a car, then the dealer spotting you in the road and saying 'HANG ON A SEC, I don't think you bought that car - lets just take away your servicing, air con, sat nav - all the lovely features until we get this straightened out'."

    Well, since some of the stuff you get through WGA is security-related, I'd say it's a bit more like the dealer taking away your seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes and side impact protection bars -- while leaving the air-con, satellite navigation and spiffy stereo fully operational.

    Anyone who is STILL running closed-source software, after all these warnings, well: YOU DESERVE EVERYTHING YOU GET.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BB is watching you.

    "The experience of a system that failed validation in this instance was that some features intended for use only on genuine systems were temporarily unavailable"

    So it must also make available some features/functionalities intended for suspected non genuine systems. It is no wonder it is such Bloatware. All those bigbrother spying features are just eagerly waiting to be activated at a push of the "windows update" button.

  34. Ian Emery Silver badge

    Constitutional Rights ??

    What happened to "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" ?

    Anyone care to start a class action of this?

    Really scary thought, M$ do "Windows For Warships"; the latest Royal Navy Destroyers use it.

    (Special Version of Windows 2000: so obsolete already).

    " I am sorry, your copy of Windows For Warships does not appear to be valid; we are shutting down your anti-missile defences and propulsion systems until a valid copy is inst_BANG!!!!!!!!!!!

  35. davcefai

    Malware as a bonus

    According to MS Windows Defender was put into reduced functionality mode where it only cleaned the severe threats.

    Luvverly isn't it. They screw up their servers and you pay for it by not being defended against "non-severe" threats.

  36. James Cleveland

    If you don't do anything wrong.

    You have nothing to hide.

    :)

  37. Chris

    So?

    You choose to use Windows, so stop whinging about it already. Get a Mac, or just install a free OS over it, there are many to choose from. Oh, and ask for your money back, there are a lot of better uses for it instead of helping to maintain an illegal monopolist.

  38. Steve Bush

    rant against ms is pointless since our laws allow this

    instead of complaining at ms who could not care less we should be thinking about how to change our laws or not. this is a bit harder than ranting on forums.

  39. Sam

    @Ritesh Tendulkar

    quote; Ritesh Tendulkar

    Posted Tuesday 28th August 2007 08:02 GMT

    "yet I was here at 3am ringing up an Indian bloke to exchange 48-digit codes at a sluggish pace "

    Could you please enlighten me what exactly is wrong with the bloke being Indian here?"...end quote.

    Easy answer...a large amount of Indian call centres are staffed by script reading numbnuts with a poor command of English (Like Virgin Media), and further more a "don't care" attitude..hence all the adverts by companies saying "British only call centres"..they wouldn't use that line unless it sold their products!

  40. Steven Pepperell

    @@Irritating..

    "yet I was here at 3am ringing up an Indian bloke to exchange 48-digit codes at a sluggish pace "

    "Could you please enlighten me what exactly is wrong with the bloke being Indian here?"

    Nothing wrong being Indian, lots wrong with hiring anybody with a heavy accent on a english helpline. Plus tbh the M$ call center dont do anything, you could tell them that you've copied the cd so many times you changed your name to Mr Warez FTW and they would still say "ok sir thats been activated for you...(cont. script)"

  41. A J Stiles

    @Ian Emery

    "What happened to 'Innocent Until Proven Guilty' ?" -- it was considered inexpedient and replaced by "Guilty Until Proven Innocent". For certain crimes (including racism, terrorism, paedophilia, traffic offences, misappropriation of intellectual property and aiding and abetting any of the preceding), even this has been replaced by "Guilty Even Despite Being Proven Innocent".

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    WGA Servers failed WGA?

    Is it possible that when the WGA servers came to do their updates they failed since they didn't pass WGA !??!

    What _DOES_ WGA do on Win2003?

    There's a thought.

    And here's another one, what if MS decided that China weren't playing nicely couldn't they just fail them all ?

  43. Cameron Colley

    @A J Stiles

    <quote>Anyone who is STILL running closed-source software, after all these warnings, well: YOU DESERVE EVERYTHING YOU GET.</quote>

    Cool, you open the source and port the software I want to use to Linux and I'll wipe my XP partition! ;~)

    Since there are things which I cannot currently do under Linux, the only way to get around "limited functionality" is to use M$ rubbish. I am sure there are many others in similar positions.

    Until content providers start using open-source standards using exclusively free software is just shooting yourself in the foot. Hell, as far as I can make out, watching a DVD under Linux is illegal in the US.

  44. Pat

    Good bye Windows, hello Linux.

    If WGA stands for Windows Genuine Advantage, it’s definitely not for their customers’ advantage if it deliberately handicaps the operating system. Windows Genuine Advantage must refer to advantages of the program to Microsoft because it is definitely not the user. Why are antivirus companies not flagging the WGA for what it truly is? A virus! I would love to see my antivirus pop up “Windows Genuine Annoyance virus has been detected. Delete / Quarantine. I download patches manually and check for the WGA virus, although it is rather to do with the number of patches that continually roll out, which is why I for one have installed Ubuntu on one of my machines. I hope to be completely switched over to Linux before the end of the year. My notebook is next up to be switched over to Linux. To hell with Microsoft, and their viral updates.

  45. Stephen

    if you don't do anything wrong, you have nothing to hide.

    Well James that is the sort of junk I am sure the Nazis said as well when their secret police were rounding people up for interrogation...

    Amazing how many people happily hand over their privacy and freedoms to those who do not deserve it citing those words.

    At the end of the day if you have paid your money and bought the software, you certainly should not need to justify that and be forced to keep justifying it.

    Guilty until proven innocent, that seems to be the way the world works these days...

  46. Eduard Coli

    At least it's good for Linux

    The more M$ tightens the noose the more attractive they make the competition.

  47. Mike Stillion

    You MUST be joking

    "if you don't do anything wrong, you have nothing to hide"? Is it possible to be more ignorant? Let's not assume that people only want to hide things that are wrong. Even you, sir James, have PLENTY of things about your life you wish to keep private and for good reason - bank statements anyone? How many kids? Can I see their pictures? Of course not. We don't give others information they have no right to know, and we don't give others privileges on machines they have no right to control.

    Well, that is unless you use Windows. I'm a Microsoft consultant, been drinking the kool-aid for over 15 years now. I'm not sure why Microsoft thinks they have the right to do anything like disabling features on a simple user's machine. Who gave them the right to have that much control over my computer? Oh, that's right - MICROSOFT GAVE THEMSELVES THAT RIGHT.

    Microsoft was wrong to disable windows functionality just because a server could not be contacted. Less than 10% of the Windows customer base is composed of pirated copies, yet the other 90% of us must endure putative action? 90% of users did nothing wrong, and yet their software was disabled. Oh, sorry "only 12,000 systems", not 90% of all Windows users. I think I'd be in trouble if I pissed off 12,000 customers by "reducing functionality" of software I'd provided. The vast majority of the 90% also are not technically capable of simply re-installing or restoring a working Windows, as the 10% thieves would most likely be able to do. Windows only made computers easier (not easy) to use. And Vista is a step of the backwards variety.

    Windows Vista - It's "pretty", but loaded with DRM and Microsoft Self-Declared Authority Services (SDAS). I can't WAIT for the day when Vista disables or removes sound and video drivers for 12,000 customers because of some errant "DRM violation". MS might be shamed into removing that crap from Windows with the next release IF AND ONLY IF the poor customers demand it and stop buying new PCs till it changes.

    Linux is such a cool idea, but again, only technical people can install and use it. If it was pre-installed on all new machines, MS would never have added that DRM crap in the first place. If people knew that the OS was free, the Office products are free and just as good as MS office (and can read the same file formats!), MS would have to shape up. Right now ignorance is on the side of the Giant. But that will change, my friends... that WILL change.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not absurd doublespeak

    @joe_bruin

    "WGA's goal is not to punish the people who purchase these programs; they, of all people are the most victimized,"

    "What? How am I, a paid-for Windows user, victimized when someone else pirates Windows? In what bizarro world does that make sense? "

    The idea is that if you've unknowingly bought a pirated copy from a crooked merchant, you have been ripped-off.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Elgar

    "[The crippled features] were Windows Aero, ReadyBoost, Windows Defender (which still scanned and identified all threats, but cleaned only the severe ones) etc"

    It's this bit which disturbs me most - the bit about the crippled version of Windows Defender spotting all these threats, but only taking out the "severe" ones. Who determines which are the severe threats, and how severe do they have to be, in order for Windows Defender to chop them out?

    By all means turn off Windows Media Player, the Aero interface, DVD movie playback, the luxuries etc, but not an integral security feature. I'm sure Microsoft would prefer that even pirated copies of Windows were virus-free.

  50. Simon Westerby

    Ever tried the auto-validation by phone after an re-install...

    Having had to reinstall XP several times over the years after hardware failures or through general wiondoze rot, I was very supriosed when on one occasation it failed to validate...

    SO I have the "validation phone line" where it promtly asked me for my licence key, and how many pc's it was installed on, then pronmptly told me I olready had it installed on another "PC" and HAD to buy another licence. And then just abruptly hung up.

    I wonder how many poor saps have just gone out and bought a new licence at that point? the good old M$ re-validation scam...

    I didn't, and rang the number again in the hope of actual speaking witha person, not a robot... it took me three attempts to do so, the only way i managed it was to enter an invalid key three times over. there was no option to speak with a person at all.

    When I finally did get through to a person on the other end of the line, she sorted it out in less the a minute.

    M$ - crap sw / good people.

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