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Microsoft to roll out new version of WGA

Controversial phone-home software gets 'troubleshooting' mode

By Eric Lai
November 29, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday released a revamped version of its Windows Genuine Advantage tool that it hopes will reduce complaints arising from paid-up users of Windows XP caught in the dragnet of the controversial anti-piracy program.

The main change in WGA Notifications is a new category of results for PCs with Windows installations of questionable validity.

The change addresses a problem raised by the other half of Microsoft's anti-piracy program, WGA Validation, which was introduced in mid-2005. PCs that were scanned by WGA Validation and failed to prove to Microsoft’s satisfaction that they were running non-counterfeit copies of Windows XP were formerly labeled as "non-genuine" by Microsoft.

That caused WGA Validation to disallow access to certain Microsoft software, and WGA Notifications to send periodic messages asking users to reinstall XP or buy a legitimate license for it, leading to "nagware" complaints from some users.

Many users also claimed that WGA, due to technical glitches or other issues, mislabeled their genuine copies of Windows XP as pirated. Microsoft has maintained  throughout that the rates of such "false positive" errors were very low.

At the same time, its online forum for WGA-related problems has registered  nearly 20,000 postings from aggrieved users.  

Yesterday’s change in WGA Notifications is aimed at addressing complaints from users who have yet to pass WGA by creating a new "indeterminate" category for copies of XP that failed to prove they were genuine yet did not use a license of XP known by Microsoft to be pirated.

Microsoft keeps a database of pirated XP licenses, most of which are stolen from corporations using a single volume license to install multiple Windows on multiple PCs.

Users with copies of XP labeled "indeterminate" are also provided with more information to troubleshoot the problem, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman.

The majority of Windows XP users, whose copies of XP have already passed Microsoft's WGA program, can safely ignore the updated tool.

Microsoft initially tested WGA Notifications this summer as a "high-priority" fix via Automatic Updates, a category typically reserved for security and bug fixes. Many users were surprised to get WGA Notifications downloaded automatically along with their security updates and complained, saying that Microsoft was acting no different than a purveyor of spyware.

Microsoft subsequently changed WGA Notifications to nag users less often and allowed them to uninstall it. But it was kept as a high-priority update.

According to David Lazar, director of Genuine Windows for Microsoft, the revamped WGA Notifications still remains a "high-priority" update, though users will be able to deselect it from being downloaded and installed. Users running copies of XP that Microsoft has already determined to rely on one of four pirated Windows license keys are now being asked to download the revamped tool. That will be gradually expanded to include other users over the "next several weeks and months," according to Lazar.

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