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Microsoft denies WGA kill switch in Windows XP

Company says it plans to tighten honor system for corporate volume licenses

By Eric Lai
June 30, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Corp. today denied speculation that it plans to cripple copies of Windows XP for users who refuse to install its controversial antipiracy tool, Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA).

But the software company confirmed that for its upcoming Windows Vista operating system, companies will be required to activate their software differently than they do today in order to prevent the leakage of volume licenses that are the source of most Windows piracy.

A blogger reported earlier in the week on a conversation between a Windows user and a Microsoft support staffer, who allegedly admitted that users who refused to install the WGA update would be given 30 days before their copies of Windows would stop working. said that Microsoft refused to deny the report at the time. But later, Microsoft appeared to sing a different tune.

“No, Microsoft antipiracy technologies cannot and will not turn off your computer,” said a spokeswoman with Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft’s public relations firm. “The game is changing for counterfeiters. In Windows Vista, we are making it notably harder and less appealing to use counterfeit software, and we will work to make that a consistent experience with older versions of Windows as well.”

Microsoft last fall began testing WGA as a way of trying to find pirated copies of Windows. In mid-June, it announced that users would need to download and pass WGA to be eligible to download the latest versions of add-on software such as Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Media Player 11. Users would still be able get the latest security updates, though. Companies that buy Windows XP through large package deals are exempt from having to install WGA.

Since then, Microsoft has taken considerable heat from consumers and the media, who have likened WGA to spyware that has sometimes inaccurately labeled legal copies of Windows as pirated.

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

Still, WGA has been so controversial that it led a French programmer to develop a tool to delete WGA and a Windows customer in Los Angeles to file a class-action lawsuit.

Microsoft has tried to appease customers by releasing a new version of WGA that checks users’ computers only once a month, rather than every day.

The lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges that WGA violates antispyware laws by not fully disclosing itself when it was delivered to Windows users through Auto-Update. The suit is headed by the same lawyer who also led the class-action lawsuit earlier this year against Sony Corp. for not disclosing that it had placed copy-protection rootkit software on customers’ PCs via music CDs it sold. The rootkits disabled users' protections against viruses and spyware. Sony later settled the lawsuit.

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