Did I want to re-activate over the Internet? Of course! Alas, that was not to be; apparently my copy of Vista wasn't genuine, at least according to my PC. (Did I mention that, as a tech reviewer, I got my copy of Vista directly from Microsoft?) My PC did tell me that I could enter a new product key if I wanted to. (That, and $450, will get you a new copy Vista.) Er, no.
Next came the option of phone validation. I was connected to an automated voice mail system, which asked me to read off the eight or nine six-digit sequences, which appeared on my screen in a dialog box. The automated voice came back and told me, no joy, and that I would be connected to a human operator who would help me.
A man came on the line and asked me several questions: Had I received my copy of Vista with a new PC or separately? Was I running Vista on more than one machine? Had my luggage been out of my possession at any time? (He didn't really ask me that last one.) Once I passed that quiz, he gave me eight 6-digit sequences to type in. My PC successfully validated my copy of Vista, with one big "but."
After typing in all the numbers, I got a message that I'd passed. However, I also got a dialog box saying "Your copy of Windows is NOT genuine." Here's where it gets tricky: Microsoft apparently knows that box isn't supposed to be there, because their phone-support script is designed to get you past it real quick. I know that because the phone-support man told me to type in the numbers, hit "next," and then hit "close." The "close" was supposed to be on the "NOT genuine" box.
When I asked him why that box said "Your copy of Windows is NOT genuine," he at first repeated his command to hit "close." When I replied that, yes, I heard you, but I'm asking you WHY the box says what it says, he responded with silence. When I queried him twice more (and I swear there was no profanity involved), he hung up on me. Nice.
Two main points leap out at me from the whole experience:
First, as Microsoft's own forums show, my problem is quite common.
Try this: "I recently purchased Vista Ultimate and am now trying to activate it. After entering my key, the online activation sent an error saying the key was in use. The software was new in the box so the key has to be unused, right? So I tried phone activation and the Product ID wasn't valid. What is going on?"
Or this: "After running Vista for a few weeks, I rebooted this morning to find that my purchased copy of Vista is no longer genuine. The Aero display has been disabled and I do not know what to do."
Or this: "I've purchased a original Vista home premium 2 weeks ago and validated it when i purchased it. But about half an hour ago, they suddenly prompted me that 'There is a problem with your license so notifications will no longer appear.' "
Second, Microsoft is aware of the so-called "false positive" issue. (A false positive is defined as WGA flagging a valid copy of Windows as "bad"; it should be called "false negative," if you ask me.) Microsoft took exception to a January story which attempted to characterize the number of false positives. I'm simplifying, but basically Microsoft's point was there weren't that many.
Clearly, there was some sort of problem, since a fix was issued. (See update, at bottom.) I hope this permanently corrects the problem. If not, this could become Microsoft's consumer Waterloo if home copies of Vista are randomly flagged for revalidation after they've already been validated successfully.
Without getting into the whole issue of off-shore phone support, I think it's fair to say that average consumers who purchase their computers at Best Buy won't be too happy about talking to a script-reader who's not sympathetic to their problems and who isn't empowered to do anything beyond read the script (or hang up if they get too flummoxed).
One more thing: if you run into this issue and can't figure out what to do, go to Command prompt in Windows. Type in "slui 4" and then do phone activation for your copy.
I'll keep an eye on this and tell you if it recurs for me; please write me or comment below and tell me about your experiences.
[Update, Feb. 25, 9:53 pm. Commenter "Mike," below, points out a Microsoft Knowledgebase entry, KB931573, entitled "You may be prompted to activate Windows Vista on a computer on which Windows Vista activation wasn't previously required." It offers a downloadable Vista Update, which fixes what it identifies as a Vista system problem.
This raises several points for further investigation: I will have to make sure my set-up has this update, and will have to check the Microsoft forums to see if there's any indication of an issue on systems which do have the update installed. As well, some of the WGA validation problems in the forums -- including all three quoted above -- occurred after the data of issuance of the KB931573 update, but that doesn't mean that all the machines in question have the update installed. Finally, I wonder why Microsoft's WGA blog hasn't made any mention of the KB931573 update.]