Thursday, May 07, 2009

WGA By Any Other Name Might Still Be A Pain For Users

Microsoft has decided to let the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) label slide to its death with Windows XP, instead opting to rename their anti-counterfeit/anti-piracy technology Windows Activation Technologies (WAT).

Full details of the new anti-piracy program were disscused in a Microsoft Press Pass interview with Joe Williams, general manager, Worldwide Genuine Windows at Microsoft.

At its heart the program will remain the same both WGA and WAT look for a valid product key and use repeated verification efforts to determine if a copy of Windows is legitimate. The main differences will be how the customers of "flag" installations will be notified. WGA would enter "reduced functionality mode" crippling users machines WAT will rely more on an increased number of on-screen nagging messages.

Alex Kochis, Microsoft's director for the Genuine Windows group said , "We heard feedback from customers that while the notifications that appeared in Windows Vista were effective at helping alert customers, there might be more we could do and say that would be helpful. So for Windows 7 our goal was to do a better job of helping customers make decisions with confidence about which action to take."

According to Kochis the new WAT messages in Windows 7 will be more descriptive about what Windows is actually doing and providing more information about what, if any, actions the user should take as a result.

For example, with Windows Vista Service Pack 1, if a PC was not activated or hadn't passed the genuine activation testing prior to the login process, users would periodically see a dialog box as a visual reminder they still needed to activate their copy of Windows. Within this prompt, they could choose to activate immediately or later. But the option to push the “activate later” button was grayed out for 15 seconds.

According to the feedback MS has recieved users didn't fully undertand what why they needed to activate immediately and that the delay was annoying. In Windows 7 MS had modified this process: When a users choose to activate later they will see a dialog box highlighting how activation helps them identify if their copy of Windows is genuine and be allowed to proceed immediately without a 15-second delay. In Windows 7 the changes will be made so that users will see more informative notifications messages and be able to more easily complete the tasks they need to.

For Windows 7 and WAT the company has also added a few new validation tools which should enable Windows to get smarter over time. While exact details weren't released WAT will have the ability to receive new information that Windows can use to detect and protect against the latest activation exploits, tampering or other attempts to circumvent product activation. MS also added to the online service and servers that supports activation and validation on the Microsoft side with extensive systems monitoring, geo-redundancy and a focus on accuracy.

Clearly Microsoft hopes to avoid some of the mistakes brought forth with WGA which has been plagued with issues including falsly indetifing legitamate copies of Windows as pirated. WGA was also fairly easily cracked or disabled altogether.

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