Weekend's Genuine Disadvantage (and juxtapositions)

It's Monday's IT Blogwatch: in which Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage servers go missing. Not to mention unfortunate advertising positioning...

Gregg Keizer reports

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" 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. Eastern, Microsoft said the problem had been fixed.
The validation server snafu began sometime prior to 8 p.m. Eastern time on Friday ... Although copies of both Windows XP and Vista were being tagged as counterfeit during the 19 hours, users of the latter were especially incandescent. The WGA anti-piracy scheme for that OS disables several features when it thinks the copy is bogus, among them the Aero graphical user interface and ReadyBoost.
Although Microsoft did not put a number to the affected systems Saturday ... it appeared to be system-wide. If so, it would be the biggest problem so far in the Redmond, Wash. developer's contentious WGA program. Designed to spot pirated copies of its Windows and Office software, WGA has been mandatory since mid-2005 before non-security updates or files can be downloaded from Microsoft's site. [more]

Harry McCracken rolls his eyes:

The official WGA forum is bursting at the seams with posts from unhappy people who have been told that their legit copies of Windows are questionable or fake. Something significant is going badly wrong ... Microsoft.com's pages about Windows Genuine Advantage don't mention what's going on. Actually, they're still plastered with photos of smiling people and testimonials from users explaining how much they love WGA.
I think Microsoft has the right to protect its intellectual property ... but Windows copy protection ... has always had major problems ... There's no such thing as Apple Genuine Advantage or Linux Genuine Advantage. I'd like to think that this weekend will be prove to be a come-to-Jesus moment for Microsoft--one that causes the company to step back and ask itself whether the headaches WGA causes for its paying customers are worth whatever preventive effect it has against piracy. But I'm not holding my breath.
I think Microsoft owes its customers ... 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. [more]

Christopher Null works it out:

Failing a WGA check can result in a variety of problems for you. Under XP, WGA is comparably harmless, popping up a little balloon in the bottom right of your screen, warning you that the software may be counterfeit. For Vista, things are considerably worse: The OS can drop into "reduced functionality mode," which severely restricts how the machine works (notably turning off Aero and BitLocker... and only letting you remain logged in for one hour at a time).

I'm pleased that the problem hasn't crippled every Windows machine on the planet, but I'm severely disappointed that Microsoft's draconian, useless software is disabling the PCs of paying customers who rely on them day in and day out. WGA is Big Brother at its worst, and in my increasingly-outraged opinion Microsoft needs to get rid of it (along with activation and other semi-spyware tactics) as soon as possible. [more]

But Microsoft's Nick White implies a storm in a teacup:

We've since learned that very few customers were affected. [more]

John C. Dvorak gets no spam:

If these programs were properly designed they would all self-validate if the validation server went down. The cheaters would have a free day or two and be caught later. How hard can that be? But no. Now everyone is assumed to be a crook. [more]

Cristian Untaru wonders if the fix is actually working:

The WGA validation systems is supposed to be back online although earlier today people were still having problems with getting it to not display an error. Bad DRM, bad, don't bite off the hand that feeds you. [more]

The Bungi:

I like and use Microsoft software, especially the development tools and servers, and I've (almost) always considered they are worth the money. But WGA is the most stupid thing Microsoft has ever done. I could understand product activation to a certain extent - it's really no different than most commercial software protection schemes in most respects. But WGA needs to be killed off. WGA is a hell of a lot closer to treating customers like criminals than WPA ever was.
On the other hand it's not like I'd switch to Linux anyway. Ubuntu completely screwed up my X configuration after an apt-get upgrade that took two hours (6.x to 7.4) and I just shut the thing down ... If I had a dime for every time I've typed su vim /etc/X11/xorg.conf I'd get me an iPhone or something. Lack of choices suck too. [more]

Here's SeaFox, with a scary thought:

Isn't it interesting that the government doesn't consider systems like WGA a threat to national security?
Once the entire Windows desktop marketshare (+90% of all desktops) is using a Windows OS featuring WGA, what's to stop criminals and terrorists from capturing the datacenters that house these servers and holding a major factor in world finance hostage? [more]

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... 15 Unfortunately Placed Ads [one or two may possibly offend]

Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You too can pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email: blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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