A potentially nightmarish scenario opened up for Microsoft this week when it discovered that legitimate users were being locked out of their software.
The problem is with Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), Microsoft's licensing tool, which offers Windows users more secure software in return for their conformance with a vigorous Microsoft licensing strategy. WGA is a key part of Microsoft's strategy to persuade as many users as possible to ensure they only use legitimate, correctly licensed software.
On Wednesday, Microsoft's Phil Liu wrote in a Windows blog that he was giving Windows users a "heads up" on the problem.
According to Liu, "some [volume licensing] customers may have experienced problems with WGA validation". Users of Windows XP were finding that their systems were "failing validation or reporting as non-genuine". In other words, their systems were being seen by SWA as illegal systems with software that had been copied or had come from a non-genuine source.
The problem was "the result of an issue on the Microsoft server side, and we are still investigating the cause", Liu wrote, but did not say how the problem occurred or give an estimate of when it would be fixed by.
Liu did offer a fix involving deleting a data.dat file and replacing it with a new download from the WGA site.
WGA has proved controversial since it was launched in 2004. In January 2005 the company first spelled out its strategy of excluding any software from the scheme that may have been pirated making it essential to make sure their software conformed to WGA if they were to get patches and upgrades.
Microsoft had not responded to request for comment at the time of writing.