Still no word on cause of WGA outage or Microsoft's future prevention plans

Summary:On August 27, Microsoft shared a bit more information on the worldwide outage that affected Windows XP and Vista users attempting to prove they were running non-pirated versions of Windows using Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) system. But there's still no word on how and why WGA failed -- and what Microsoft plans to do to insure a similar outage doesn't reoccur.

On August 27, Microsoft shared a bit more information on the worldwide outage that affected Windows XP and Vista users attempting to prove they were running non-pirated versions of Windows using Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) system.

According to the latest blog post by Senior Product Manager Alex Kochis on the Microsoft WGA Blog, the WGA outage lasted from about 3:30 p.m. PST on August 24, to 11:15 a.m. PST on August 25. Microsoft estimates that "fewer than 12,000 systems were affected worldwide and that many of those have already revalidated and are fixed."

(Those affected by the system outage need to go to Microsoft's WGA page and revalidate their systems. Those who were not affected do not need to take any action.)

Even though Kochis blogged that "no one went into reduced functionality mode" as a result of the outage. Technically, he was correct. According to Microsoft's own definition, Vista's reduced functionality mode (RFM) works like this:

"By choosing 'Access your computer with reduced functionality,' the default Web browser will be started and the user will be presented with an option to purchase a new product key. There is no start menu, no desktop icons, and the desktop background is changed to black. The Web browser will fully function and Internet connectivity will not be blocked. After one hour, the system will log the user out without warning. It will not shut down the machine, and the user can log back in. Note: This is different from the Windows XP RFM experience, which limits screen resolution, colors, sounds and other features."

But a number of individuals affected by Microsoft's WGA outage reported via the support forums that they lost access to Vista's Aero interface once they were incorrectly identified as running pirated software. That is how WGA is designed: Those identified as running "non-Genuine" Vista lose access to Aero, ReadyBoost performance enhancements, and Windows Defender antispyware detection before full-fledged reduced functionality mode kicks in.

Microsoft officials say they are continuing to investigate how the outage occurred, as well as why someone on the support team inappropriately told users the outage wouldn't be resolved until August 28. If the team already knows what happened, so far, it's not saying.

Meanwhile, Windows users affected by the outage are asking some good questions:

  • Why did Microsoft seemingly have no redundancy/backup WGA systems in place? Is it up to users to have their own WGA disaster recovery plans in case this kind of outage happens again?
  • Why doesn't Microsoft offer a WGA warning which states there might be a problem with Microsoft's WGA system, rather than immediately assuming users are running counterfeit software when the WGA check fails?
  • Should a single failure to validate via Microsoft's WGA mechanism result in a user losing Aero, Windows Defender, etc.? Why not make these "punishments" take affect after two or three failures to validate? Shouldn't innocence be presumed rather than guilt?

Topics: Microsoft, Outage

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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