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8/28/2001
12:52 PM
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: 1,000 Posts Later: WPA Update

Fred Langa's last column about Windows Product Activation generated more than 1,000 messages in his Listening Post forum. This week, Fred presents some of the most thought-provoking and informative topics, along with a technical update.

Staying Informed
WPA is an unfolding story. All we can do is keep track of information as it becomes available. You can get yourself current with the official word from Microsoft at the following links, both of which contain information that was not available for the original "Is Windows XP's 'Product Activation' A Privacy Risk?" article. For example, there's a broad overview at http://www.microsoft.com/ piracy/ basics/ activation/ windowsproductactivationtechnicalmarketbulletin.doc, and there's good tech detail at http://www.microsoft.com/ technet/ treeview/ default.asp?url=/ TechNet/prodtechnol/ winxppro/ evaluate/ xpactiv.asp.

There also are many third-party sites digging into WPA. See, for example:

I have yet to find any non-Microsoft site that seems to think that WPA, as currently implemented, is an unalloyed good idea.

Several sites do concur with one of the central assertions in the original article--that WPA is not a particular security risk.

Microsoft has played clean in the past with other phone-home apps, such as the automated versions of Windows Update. To my knowledge, there's never been a documented case where those apps have violated user privacy or sent back inappropriate data to Microsoft. I don't believe there's any reason to suspect that the phone-home elements of WPA, per se, will behave any differently.

But most also concur with my assertion--an assertion echoed by the overwhelming majority of readers (more than 85%) who've posted so far on InformationWeek's Listening Post--that WPA is nevertheless a user-hostile technology with a number of major real or potential drawbacks and with no redeeming benefit for Microsoft's customers (you and me).

I think WPA is a terrible idea. But let me ask you:

  • If you've encountered the WPA reactivation sequence, what triggered it? Is your experience in agreement with or contrary to Microsoft's claims?

  • Are you willing to give Microsoft benefit of the doubt and to assume that the company will let XP continue to be reactivated and used after 2005? Or do you agree with detractors who believe WPA is a way for Microsoft to force users into a mandatory upgrade cycle?

  • Do you think Microsoft is playing a semantic game with "activation" to avoid the legal morass of "registration" obligations?
Please add your voice--pro or con--to the amazing debate going on in the Listening Post. See you there!

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