Microsoft Defends Changes To Windows Genuine Advantage Program As 'Small Burden'

Microsoft says the changes to its anti-piracy software will have little impact on customers using legal copies of Windows XP.
Microsoft on Wednesday defended recent changes to anti-piracy software that's sent to Windows XP users via automatic updates, and said that the impact on consumer and business customers would be minor.

"The burden on users with genuine systems is small," said David Lazar, director of Microsoft's Genuine Windows, in an e-mail reply to several questions about the revamped WGA Notifications Tool for Windows XP. "In fact, many users like the confidence of knowing their software is and continues to be genuine."

Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage program has been under fire since Microsoft debuted the notifications component in April. In June, Microsoft was sued as a spyware distributor after the company revealed that WGA "phoned home" to Microsoft's servers on a daily basis. Similar technologies and practices unveiled for Windows Vista also have come under attack.

Tuesday, Microsoft announced it had posted an update to the Notifications Tool—software that sniffs out counterfeit copies of Windows XP then nags users to obtain or buy a legitimate edition—and would roll out the new version to some users through the operating system's automated security update service.

Among other changes to the software, Microsoft said it has added self-help tools to help users troubleshoot instances when Notifications couldn't decide if the copy of Windows XP was valid. Michael Cherry, an analyst at research firm Decisions on Microsoft, blasted that move as an attempt by Microsoft to shift more of its anti-piracy workload to customers.

"I shouldn't have to be sent off on a whole day adventure to troubleshoot validation for Microsoft," he said Tuesday. Cherry also suspected that the move is a way for Microsoft to avoid costly technical support calls by angry users told that their Windows was illegitimate.

Microsoft's Lazar confirmed the desire to move users from the telephone support desk to online self-help. "[We want to make] the messaging and the self-help options so clear and simple that users will not need telephone support," he said. "Of course, telephone support is available for those who prefer this option, but ultimately, we think the system will run best if most issues have simple self-help solutions."

Lazar also explained that the update was prompted, at least in part, by Microsoft's discovery of four additional product activation keys that had been subverted and used to validate counterfeit copies of its operating system.

"As we continue our anti-piracy efforts, we discover new compromised keys," he said. "So each time we update the tool, we expand the blocked key list. Therefore, a system that validates successfully one month may not pass the next."

Microsoft has made this clearer to users, Lazar said, in Tuesday's update, which now includes new language in the Notifications Tool interface: "Your system may be revalidated periodically in order to take advantage of new information available from Microsoft that can help protect you against new forms of counterfeiting."

"Revalidation has been a standard part of our program since the start," said Lazar. "The threat of software piracy is constantly evolving, and as such we are committed to protecting ourselves and customers by updating and improving the technology we use to fight it."

To that end, Lazar said, users should expect updates to the Notifications Tool every 90 to 120 days.