Is Microsoft forcing Windows users to install and test pre-release software?

Is Microsoft forcing Windows users to install and test pre-release software?

Summary: The recent controversy over Microsoft's usage of Windows Update to install anti-piracy software that apparently phones home to Microsoft's servers over the  Internet on a daily basis has drawn a poorly constructed response (I analyze it here) from the company that is at best mistaken or incomplete and at worst, disingenuous about how the software installs itself and works.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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The recent controversy over Microsoft's usage of Windows Update to install anti-piracy software that apparently phones home to Microsoft's servers over the  Internet on a daily basis has drawn a poorly constructed response (I analyze it here) from the company that is at best mistaken or incomplete and at worst, disingenuous about how the software installs itself and works. My sense is that it's the former and that someone at Microsoft with a keen technical eye wasn't given an opportunity to compare the prepared statement with the actual user experience.  The response and the anti-piracy software involved -- Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) software -- raises another very serious question about how Microsoft is apparently beta testing its software on our production systems. 

According to the WGA End User License Agreement (EULA):

This software is a pre-release version of the software intended to update the technological measures in Windows XP which are designed to prevent unlicensed use of Windows XP.......This software is a pre-release version.  It may not work the way a final version of the software will.  We may change it for the final, commercial version.  We also may not release a commercial version.

When used with the word "software," the term "pre-release" is invariably taken by the marketplace to mean that the software is still in a test mode and having its bugs worked out.  In Microsoft's recently released prepared statement, we are again reminded of the pre-release nature of the software when Microsoft says:

As a result of customer concerns around performance, we are changing this feature to only check for a new settings file every 14 days. This change will be made in the next release of WGA. Also, this feature will be disabled when WGA Notifications launches worldwide later this year.

In reducing the frequency with which WGA checks Microsoft's servers for a new "settings file," Microsoft may indeed be responding to customer concerns about the WGA's behavior.  But, by saying that the feature will be disabled all together when WGA launches worldwide later this year, it seems pretty clear to me that all the "checking" going on -- be it every day or every 14 days -- is a pretty good stress test to make sure the software works before rolling it out worldwide. 

But what troubles me, and what should perhaps trouble you, is the way we may have ended up as guinea pigs for testing Microsoft's pre-release software.  As you can see from my aforelinked analysis, one of the WGA components that Microsoft is loading onto end users' systems through its Windows Update service is, contrary to what Microsoft says, installed without the end user's consent.  Normally, the installation of pre-release software on my system is up to me.  But, based on my own tests, that's not the case here.  But even more troubling is the leverage that Microsoft seems to be applying if you don't install the pre-release software.  Also in the EULA is the following statement:

If the software detects you are not running a genuine copy of Windows XP, the operation of your computer will not be affected in any way.  However, you will receive a notification and periodic reminders to install a genuine licensed copy of Windows XP. Automatic Updates will be limited to receiving only critical security updates.

In other words, even if we are running legitimate copies of Windows, Microsoft appears to be holding the updates that we're entitled to as ransom unless we install the pre-release software.  What's with that?

Topic: Tech Industry

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  • I read that slightly differently

    I read it as "if you install WGA Notification, and it determines you have an unlicensed copy of Windows, your computer will work as normal but you will only be able to receive Critical updates".

    Thus, if you don't install WGA Notification, its assumed your computer is genuine so you still get Critical Updates.
    Feldon
    • Read it again...

      1. The title of the EULA refers specifically to the Validation Tool, the part that installs on your computer witout your consent (this by the way, is another disconnect... you get the EULA for the Validation Tool while consenting to the Notifcation component).

      2. The passage in question -- part of the EULA's overview -- says nothing about WGA Notification (even though it's delivered in the course of installing WGA Notification). It says (exactly, not a "read"): [i]If the software detects you are not running a genuine copy of Windows XP, the operation of your computer will not be affected in any way. However, you will receive a notification and periodic reminders to install a genuine licensed copy of Windows XP. Automatic Updates will be limited to receiving only critical security updates.[/i]. So, I agree with you that people will likely come up with different interpretations. My suggestion to Microsoft is to leave no room for interpretation and be as explicit as possible.

      db
      dberlind
      • Ok.. So..

        [b][i]If the software detects you are not running a genuine copy of Windows XP, the operation of your computer will not be affected in any way. However, you will receive a notification and periodic reminders to install a genuine licensed copy of Windows XP. Automatic Updates will be limited to receiving only critical security updates..[/i][/b]

        ...Then the original statement should be modified to read - the computer will still continue to work as it always usual except you'll be nagged into installing a genuine copy of XP. And you'll be only getting critical updates.
        Wolfie2K3
        • If I recall correctly

          The nag screen told me that windows would quit working if I did not install a valid copy when in fact I purchased my copy a few years ago, but apparently updating the firmware on my hard drive is not allowed in their license.
          hoozafrizitz
      • Windows Genuine Advantage

        I came across another problem with the program. I had changed the system date to check appointments against the calendar and forgot to set it back. WGA flagged my Dell OEM XP installation on my laptop as pirated. When I called Dell (before I noticed the date change) all they could tell me was to reinstall Windows.

        Seems that WGA takes into account the old trick of setting your system date off to fool registration.
        Rob Groh
      • There is nothing to read - it is spyware (MS)

        The Register has an interesting article about spyware - how Microsoft educates people on it: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/06/16/spyware_lesson/

        According to the Microsoft definition of a spyware WGA is a spyware.

        I like the end of the article:
        "My problem is that, just briefly, I thought I understood what spyware was. I thought it was software that doesn't tell you clearly what it is going to do, that makes your computer behave in ways you don't like, slows it down and causes pop ups you don't want to see. There is obviously something here that I don't understand. I think I'll talk to the nice lady again and see what she says this time around."
        Solid Water
    • I can not aggeed with your approach !!

      My experience on the belgian market is that evern Microsoft Paris (France) applies the same system !! You not able even if you have a right registration to go futher on; Anyway , for us it is eventu
      fboutebw76@...
  • Hobbysoft

    The line between what is finished and what isn't is increasingly
    blurry. Perhaps this whole issue is nothing more than semantics.
    Open architecture has produced a culture of hobbiests. The half
    complete hot rod on the desktop has replaced the half complete
    hot rod in the garage. The largest supplier of software kits is
    Microsoft and assembly has always been required.

    The surprise is not that Microsoft would presume to push
    unfinished work out the door. Nor is it a surprise that it be
    wrapped in a intrusive or coersive licence. The kitbuilt process is
    a supervised process. You are sent instructions and expected to
    follow them. For your trouble you are allowed to delude
    yourselves into thinking you're involved in authorship. It's a
    heady feeling. Expect Vista itself to be half baked with dozens of
    hooks. The real surprise is that it's still a surprise. At this late
    stage, please don't interupt the process with another stage play
    starring righteous indignation. You get what you're given, you
    accept the EULA's, you continue to invest in and endorse the
    platform. In light of an inability to ditch it, all the complaints are
    nothing more than ambiant noise. Supervision and armchair
    engineer status is what Windows users want, you've made it
    clear. The Windows community asks for it daily. Through action,
    inaction and even through the complaints, there is a tacit
    endorsement of the staus quo.
    Harry Bardal
    • Suitable for...

      ... framing. That post will hang on my wall.
      Spikey_Mike
  • You lost me at the end there...

    "But even more troubling is the leverage that Microsoft seems to be applying if you don't install the pre-release software. Also in the EULA is the following statement:

    If the software detects you are not running a genuine copy of Windows XP, the operation of your computer will not be affected in any way. However, you will receive a notification and periodic reminders to install a genuine licensed copy of Windows XP. Automatic Updates will be limited to receiving only critical security updates.

    In other words, even if we are running legitimate copies of Windows, Microsoft appears to be holding the updates that we're entitled to as ransom unless we install the pre-release software. What's with that?"

    I'm certainly not M$'s biggest fan by any stretch of the imagination but I'm not getting your eval of this at all.

    First, "leverage that Microsoft seems to be applying if you don't install the pre-release software" is not being implyied here at all from what I'm reading with your quoted "you will receive a notification and periodic reminders to install a genuine licensed copy of Windows XP".

    I would even argue that they may very well have the right to not update any of your software if it is invalid.

    That's kinda like fixing a stereo for a thief after he stole it from you and it doesn't work lol.

    So, "if you are not running a genuine copy of Windows XP,... " you should still be happy that at least you "will be limited to receiving only critical security updates".
    BillyG_n_SC
    • Finding your way...

      Let me try this another way....

      The way I read this, if you don't run the pre-release code that phones home to Microsoft, the same code that certifies you as "genuine," then the automatic updates you receive may "be limited to receiving only critical security updates" since, by not running the code, Microsoft can't tell if you're genuine.

      This of course is still secondary to the larger issue of installing test code on our systems without our consent.

      db
      dberlind
    • He lost me too, but ...

      I think, BillyG_n_SC, that the key element is how MS determines if you are running a genuine copy of Windows XP. If it's the WGA "Windows Genuine Advantage" tool, then it's also all the string attached to WGA.
      rilauriston
    • Your way off man.

      The problem here is not piracy, the problem is an intrusive component being installed in your OS that may for any unknown reason declare your OS invalid at any particular time, and for any particular reason, which many of the public have no awareness of at all when ding upgrades or system alterations.

      Bottom line should be when you purchase a piece of software it is the same as purchasing any other copyrightable product; its yours to use how and where you like so long as you don?t make or sell copies. How would you like to purchase a book and a few weeks later you cannot even open it only to find that because you had originally been reading it sitting in a chair under a bright light in the living room and now you?re trying to read it sitting at a table in the kitchen under a florescent light but it only wants you to read it from the location of first choice?

      The whole modern anti piracy movement is driven by the notion that there is a software solution to the piracy phenomenon and there is not, nor is there ever likely to be a software based solution. Every software solution is eventually, and quicker every day, reverse engineered by the pirates and in very short order the pirates have got it beat. To this day despite every software manufacturer?s diligent efforts and expenses no software company has come up with a fool proof software based method for preventing the piracy of their software based products and this is almost surly due to the fact that there is no real software based solution that can be created.

      Examine the current line of consol based home gaming systems where a hardware based solution was sought and even it has been defeated in very short order by people installing relatively inexpensive mod chips to their systems. The problem is the format software manufacturers have chosen; writable CD and DVD disks.

      While the inexpensive writable disk made for massive profit windfalls for the music industry in the 1980?s when CD?s were first popularized, they are now the very Achilles heal of the media industry as far as piracy goes. Because they chose to screw the public over price wise by charging way over the price of a vinyl LP and releasing media on cheap CD? because it was easy and highly profitable, they are now finding in order to protect themselves from piracy they must put the consumer at risk by way of highly questionable software based anti piracy methods that make a computer system subject to the quirks and foibles of the anti piracy measures.

      Again and again the entire software/media industry has chosen the method most profitable for them, and they only attempt to use these software based anti piracy methods for no other good reason then they can. Even though the industry itself must know that these methods will never really stop the kind of piracy they claim they are fighting, they suspect it will at least keep the average user in check. But even then, in order to do that; they must take seriously stringent measures to accomplish the task as any software based anti piracy method can be dispatched with some significant effort.

      The measures taken now a days must be so stringent, to be effective at all, they must often include rootkits, spyware or such overly restrictive parameters that the anti piracy efforts actually put either the long term usability of the software itself at risk or open up security risks in the result.

      The bottom line that must be kept in mind is that in order for these so called software based anti piracy solutions to be even minimally effective they absolutely must result in at least the occasional, and in the worst cases frequent anomalies in the rightful usability of the associated software and may even create security risks if the software hasn?t been developed with extreme care.

      So why do they do it? Because they can. In short because it is presented to them as an almost free and easy way to prevent piracy, although it actually doesn?t really work in the long run and usually just causes problem for the consumer. Again and again they just do not care enough about the consumer if the plan presented to them on paper looks like it will make them an extra thin dime.
      Cayble
  • What else would you expect from MS? Honesty?!!

    News Discussion: Does Microsoft's new WGA disclosure fall short?
    TalkBack 1 of 1:

    WGA
    It would seem to me anyone that uses any MS products are guinea pigs, and always have been.

    If you can list one MS app or OS that has come out finsihed on its first release that never needed a security patch or an update then I'll eat crow. It seems quite ridiculas and rather ludicris that MS can keep a straight face while charging $200 for an OS full of holes and $400+ for an office suite that needs a service pack every three months and a slew of security updates inbetween.

    Lets face it, if MS built cars we'd all be riding bikes. You don't tolerate your new car clunking out three or four times a month without reason, nor would you take an "I don't know what's wrong with it just reboot it" from your mechanic.

    MS has been raping the public dollar for its inferior products for over a decade, why do you think linux and mac have been taking back shares?

    People got tired of paying $20 for a music CD with one or two good songs so P2P became the way around being robbed. Just as the music industry learned so will MS, why pay and put up with something that doesn't perform like the box says?

    We don't tolerate this kind of performance with any other product in the world, no matter the price, so why should we start now?
    warezdog
    • Best post of the week

      But the shills will come in here and shoot you down, because they can not comprehend anything else in their one-track feeble little minds...
      itanalyst
      • you get an A for calling that one!!

        Gee, guess you've seen metal midgets like ax alot!!

        NICE CALL!!

        You get an A+ for calling that one~!
        warezdog
    • "warezdog" ? Hmmm, pretty much says it all.

      With a nic like that I am certain you have nothing bootleg on your machines, riiiight...
      No_Ax_to_Grind
      • And that was an intelligent response how?

        That's what I thought...back to the cave with you.
        itanalyst
        • Way over your head I'm afraid.

          Not to worry, the thinking folks understood it.
          No_Ax_to_Grind
          • everyone understood it

            it's just nobody was amused.
            Scott W