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Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications Service Goes Live

The service is designed to detect pirated versions of Windows running on users' desktops and check periodically to make sure the running version is legal.

Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) notifications service has moved out of pilot testing and will now reach out and touch millions of mainstream Windows XP users in the coming months.

WGA is software distributed through Microsoft's Automatic Update and Windows Update that identifies fake or counterfeit versions of Windows and informs those who fail validation how to get a legal copy of Windows. The updated WGA Notifications package was released Tuesday.

One year ago, Microsoft launched WGA Validation, a program that urged customers to check to ensure that their copy of Windows is authentic or legal when using Windows Update.

The first phase of WGA Notifications -- which alerts customers that run Windows software deemed to be counterfeit or illegal -- was launched in Norway and Sweden in November 2005 and in five additional countries last February.

In April, Microsoft expanded the pilot program to a segment of Windows XP customers in the U.S., United Kingdom, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.

As of this week, the pilot phase of the program ends and Microsoft will do a phased roll-out globally to all Windows XP users, Microsoft said.

Microsoft has made several changes to WGA Notifications based on customer concerns noted during the pilot, including a pledge not to perform daily "configuration" checks of Windows with every user login.

Even so, Microsoft noted that WGA Validation will continue to check "periodically" to determine whether or not a copy of Windows is genuine, or legal.

In April, Microsoft launched a similar pilot program for Office called Office Validation that is also expected to move into mainstream use.

As it attempts to curb the vast amount of pirated and counterfeit copies of Windows used globally, and monetize more software assets in use, Microsoft also plans to enforce license compliance for its enterprise customers.

To do this, the company is developing a "key" management server that keeps tabs on customers' volume license keys.

One observer who asked not to be named said it makes sense for Microsoft to enforce its IP rights but the company must be sensitive about customer privacy and needs to ensure that implementation does not impact system performance or customer operations.

"It's inevitable that in a highly connected world Microsoft is going to use ubiquitous Internet connectivity to eventually enforce licenses, but they need to proceed very cautiously," said the analyst.

"If, in addition to the cost of client access licenses and Software Assurance, legal customers have to pay a price in performance or reliability, because Microsoft is trying to track down illegal users, then legal customers could revolt and look for software that doesn't do this."

Microsoft, for its part, maintains that the program is "completely optional" and all users can continue to receive "critical" security updates regardless of their status.

Still, Microsoft executives said previously that the company may require users to get Windows validated in order to access all updates in the future.

According to a statement released Tuesday, WGA Validation collects information used to determine if a copy of Windows is genuine but the company insists it won't use the information to identify customers or attempt to contact them.

Additionally, customers can choose not to install the updated WGA Notifications package and can also opt to remove previous installations, Microsoft said.

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