You can look at it a couple of ways. The glass-is-half-full viewpoint is to conclude that the incident back in August when the WGA servers went haywire was more severe -- and perhaps less preventable -- than Microsoft fessed up to at the time, and it has decided it needs to treat customers better while it still has some.
The glass-is-half-empty version is the one put forward yesterday by my colleague Serdar Yegulalp, who blogged that WGA has presented Microsoft with an unintended side effect: it's boosting the use of Linux. He spins a conspiracy theory that could win him a spot as one of the Lone Gunmen -- that Microsoft would rather have people run pirated copies of Windows than legitimate copies of competing OSes.
I'm an optimist, so I think the glass is half full. I'm sure the decision to remove the threat of WGA was made with the best interests of the computing community in mind, aren't you?
But I don't think Microsoft should stop there. I think it can do even better, and maybe even repair some of the damage it's done:
- Microsoft should admit that User Account Control, like WGA, is a solution only for Microsoft. It is not a solution for Microsoft customers. It should remove UAC from Windows Vista and announce that it will develop real security solutions that don't depend on preventing computer users from using their computers.
- Microsoft should rewrite Automatic Update and Windows Update so that nothing gets installed on a PC without the PC owner's permission. Whatever you think about WGA and UAC, "Microsoft Knows Best" isn't winning friends and influencing people. More rounds of mysterious installs that benefit Microsoft but not users will just cost the company more credibility.
- It should announce that it will sell and support Windows XP indefinitely. It already has extended sales of XP through mid-2008 and still plans to release a long-delayed Service Pack 3 for XP. If it is still willing to sell XP, it should be willing to support it, as well, which means it should set back the "sunset" date for XP (which had originally been the end of last year, believe it or not) to something like "two years after the release of the next version of Windows." Given the current schedule for Windows 7, that would be 2012, a reasonable date.
- Finally, Microsoft should admit that Windows Vista is not the universal replacement for Windows XP the company might have hoped for, and realign its marketing.
Corporations have resisted adopting Vista. XP continues to outperform Vista. It's been a year, and Vista sales, as far as I can tell, are still a glass that's half empty. It's time for Microsoft to start practicing listening as a market-development strategy. At least the WGA decision shows it still can.