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6/9/2006
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Microsoft's Anti-Piracy Tool Draws Criticism, Changes Planned

In addition, the software maker has come under fire for failing to make it clear to people installing Windows Genuine Advantage that the application communicates with Microsoft on a daily basis to do things like ensure that the Windows copy being used isn't pirated.

Microsoft Corp. is being criticized for distributing its Windows XP anti-piracy tool in a way that may leave many PC users in the dark as to what they are actually downloading.

In addition, the software maker has come under fire for failing to make it clear to people installing Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) that the application communicates with Microsoft on a daily basis.

Microsoft on Friday acknowledged that it could have done a better job in explaining how the software behaves. The application is currently in beta.

"There have been some questions on this issue and Microsoft is working to more effectively communicate details of this feature to the public," a spokeswoman for the Redmond, Wash., company said in an email.

The company plans to change the settings of the application in its next release, so that it dials in to Microsoft every two weeks, the spokeswoman said. The call-in feature would be disabled permanently when the program is generally available worldwide later this year.

Microsoft's handling of the software's distribution has also raised eyebrows. People who have signed up to automatically receive updates for Windows XP have reported receiving notification of a "critical" security update that doesn't say it includes Windows Genuine Advantage until the download process begins. Once the program is installed, it can't be removed.

Joe Wilcox, analyst for JupiterResearch, experienced the install process, and said he wasn't happy with the experience.

"I'm somewhat dismayed by the tool," Wilcox said. "They could be handling it a lot better -- with more candor and more thought."

In its defense, Microsoft said people downloading the application are presented with an end user license that they can accept or reject. Choosing the latter will abort the process.

That process, however, fails to ensure that people will know what they are downloading, since most just click through end user licenses without reading them, Lauren Weinstein, co-founder for the advocacy group People for Internet Responsibility, said. A better way would be to recruit people separately for the WGA pilot and not wrap it into the regular Windows Update.

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