Confused over WGA? You're not alone

Summary:Arrrggghhh! Microsoft has finally tagged my phony copy of Windows XP. I'm officially a pirate now and can finish my in-depth report on WGA. Meanwhile, here are some comments on my latest post, many of them betraying a misunderstanding of Windows licensing, Windows Product Activation, and WGA. I've responded to some of the most interesting comments here.

Microsoft’s Windows Genuine Advantage servers finally noticed that the copy of Windows XP Professional I installed last weekend was using an unauthorized volume license key. That’s good news, because it means I’ll finally be able to finish the detailed report I’m working on that explains exactly how WGA actually works and what you’re likely to see if you get flagged as using a pirated copy of Windows.

As you may recall, I reported yesterday that four separate validation checks had declared it Genuine, allowing me access to updates and downloads that should have been blocked.

That post drew lots of comments, many of them betraying a misunderstanding of Windows licensing, Windows Product Activation, and WGA. To help set the stage for tomorrow’s report, I’d like to respond to a few of those comments here.

Presler: Of course [the volume license key found on the Internet] will work … because the stolen VL key that you got is legitimate... although the users of that stolen key (you and your friend) are illegitimate.

First of all, there’s no “friend” involved here. I downloaded this key from an anonymous website. And the problem of leaked/stolen volume license keys is the single largest problem WGA is intended to address. A volume license key used with the correct media can be installed without requiring activation. If it’s stolen, Microsoft marks it as stolen and flags it via the WGA servers. And no, it’s not legitimate, as I pointed out at the beginning of this post.

dplant: The issue with the invalid key you recieved with the original disk is what I would hope you would expect for an illegal copy. The key you got off of the internet? Is this a key used by a volume license customer?? Then how could MS invalidate it without completely pissing off the legit customer? Is this not what the pirates count on to get away with their theft?

Microsoft can and does invalidate volume license keys if they establish that they have been stolen. According to Microsoft representatives I’ve spoken with, they work very closely with the legitimate customers to make sure that the impact on them is as minimal as possible. But yes, VL keys do get revoked regularly.

Michael Kelly: Who cares about false negatives anyway? If there's a false negative that's MS's problem. I really don't care and I don't see why anyone else other than MS should care.

I’ll let Richard Flude provide the reply for me, courtesy of a follow-up comment: Because WGA affects everyone as everyone has to jump through the WGA hoops even those that have never used pirated software. Why force honest people to jump through these hoops if it isn't even effective at catching the dishonest people?

bportlock: Do you really think that Microsoft is going to develop WGA, sneak it in to people's PCs and then turn round and say "Whoa! What a mess we made of that one!" No - they'll play the stupid game and keep denying anything's wrong in the vain hope that they'll get it fixed before too many pain-in-the-a*s journalists and bloggers write too many stories that it is all a first rate disaster.

I can dream, can’t I?

gwrigg: Mr. Bott, if you want some dirt on WGA, and how Microsoft is mis-handling user problems, check out the first post in this thread in MS's WGA forums. … The thread starter, MVP Susan Bradley, seems to get what people are ticked off about, but thus far she's getting an amazing runaround from the MS staffers in the thread…

I have spoken with several people who have been longtime Microsoft advocates who are completely dismayed by this whole program and how poorly it’s been implemented. I wish more of them would go public with their concerns.

Infosrama: There are many keygenerators out there which can generate the keys for you. Also there are hacks that can disable WGA, and this is not a surprise.

A product key that has been spit out by a key generator should be detected by WGA. I have seen many tools that will disable WGA notifications, but none that will fool one of the Microsoft update servers into allowing access to an unvalidated copy.

Troubled241: I have an older Compaq Windows Xp CD with SP1, just worthless to me, because I can't use it on my Fujitsu, or my others. I can understand not being able to use it on my fujitsu, or others, its just that if I give it to someone who could use it, it still would not work, because its been used, yet someone told me, I can if I tell microsoft it was used and not being used on another Computer. Therefore, its best, if I dump it in the trash, they most likey want to prove its bad and not worth keeping and can't reuse. How could anyone assume microsoft would allow that, they what to make money, not reuse something that there is no profit from.

If it's a Compaq OEM CD, it can't be reused. The license associated with an OEM Windows copy locks it to the machine it was originally installed on. It can't be sold, traded, given away, or reused except on that original hardware. Now, how many people do you think understand the ins and outs of Windows licensing?

stv: so, what was that key? I have this friend, you see, who is curious about what product key you found on the Internet, so why not put it up here? Thanks. (ha, ha)

Nice try.

Topics: Microsoft

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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