The disingenuity of Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage program

The disingenuity of Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage program

Summary: The other day, I had a discussion with my four year-old son whom I believe to be a budding entomologist.  He's never happier than when bugs are crawling all over him.

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TOPICS: Windows
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The other day, I had a discussion with my four year-old son whom I believe to be a budding entomologist.  He's never happier than when bugs are crawling all over him. Spiders. Caterpillars. Beetles.  Roaches.  Doesn't matter.  He likes to catch dragonflies by their abdomens. Sometimes, I have to draw upon manliness I didn't even know I had in order not squirm right out of my skin as he asks "could you hold him while I go to the bathroom?"  The discussion was a very simple one that we've all had at one time or another (probably in different contexts) and it goes something like this: All dragonflies are insects. All insects are not dragonflies. 

But does the same hold true in a punitive context? If you steal software from me and I put you at a disadvantage as a result, does the reverse corollary hold? If you don't steal software from me and you get what you're entitled to, have I put you at an advantage? Over the thieves maybe. But overall? When I think of customer advantage programs, I generally think of programs designed to give me an advantage over other ordinary customers. Frequent flier programs for example. Memberships that get me to the front of some line. Whatever.

In a blog entry that's paired up with his eye-opener of an image gallery showing how Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage anti-piracy software (WGA) responds if it thinks you're running an illegitimate copy of its software, Bott says "The entire program is couched in language that would make Orwell proud." If you ask me, Bott was onto something but barely scratched the tip of the iceberg.

After his image gallery, and in considering some of the recent news about the sort of arm-twisting that Microsoft has in the works for alleged pirates, and in looking at all the coverage of the WGA program, I'm beginning to feel as though the world has been cajoled into believing that if Microsoft doesn't deprive us of something it has been giving us all along, that it's an advantage. As it turns out, the Windows Genuine Advantage program is a misnomer. Perhaps, the better choice would have been the Windows Genuine Disadvantage program (or WGD).

As the name of Microsoft's latest antipiracy initiative suggests, the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program is clearly being positioned as something that's advantageous to customers rather than to Microsoft. In my previous conversations with Microsoft's Windows Genuine program director David Lazar regarding the WGA program, I was told of how there's a class of Windows users out there running non-Genuine versions of Windows -- ones that are sometimes corrupted with malware by the time users take delivery of their systems -- and of how the WGA program is in part designed to protect buyers from unscrupulous resellers. 

Indeed, when I buy a system that has Windows pre-installed on it, I'd like for there to be some assurance that I've taken posession of an unadulterated version of Windows -- one that is licensed to me and not surreptitiously to tens, hundreds, or thousands of other users.  But let's be honest.  While pirated copies of Windows are obviously out there, I'm willing to bet that the people profiting from them wouldn't be profiting for very long if they were selling pre-infected systems -- infections that most of today's anti-malware (which users' would be crazy not to run especially since many ISPs including AOL now give it away for free) would detect in a heartbeat.

In truth, the phrase Windows Genuine Advantage is somewhat disingenuous in that the majority of the  program's advantages actually accrue to Microsoft, not you. Let's be honest about the program that everyone knows to be an anti-piracy effort by turning the words around a bit. The word advantage implies that disadvantages exist. But, for just about every user or "pirate" of Windows, the main disadvantages --  disadvantages that Microsoft is introducing as a result of its WGA technology -- consist of deprivation of functionality that we'd otherwise be entitled to.

Microsoft's language of deprivation has been changing too, becoming more forceful. Or, at the very least, it's becoming quite clear how much leverage Microsoft is willing to apply.  For example, in the original WGA EULA that users had to agree to when their systems were somewhat disingenuously injected with WGA code by Microsoft's update service, there's a paragraph that says:

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.

Like the clever usage of the word "advantage," the assertion that the operation of your computer will not be affected in any way and the statement that automatic updates will be limited to receiving only critical security updates is a bit of a contradiction.  OK, so, literally, speaking, if my copy of Windows is suspected by WGA to be non-genuine, absolutely nothing will change. But in truth, something does change that ties back to the aforementioned deprivation. Non-critical security updates that you were once used to getting will stop flowing to you. If for example, you're running a version of Internet Explorer that has some non-critical security bugs in it, the operation of those non-critical security bugs will not be affected in any way.  They'll continue to be buggy. If you're an alleged pirate (emphasis on "alleged"), you are being placed at a disadvantage by Microsoft until you can prove otherwise. Guilty until proven innocent.

Now for the changing language and the leverage Microsoft is apparently willing to apply. WGA as a technology is integral to the Internet-based software update services that Microsoft runs.  In the original EULA, Microsoft refers to how automatic updates -- those delivered through its service -- will be the domain of constraint once it decides to start depriving alleged pirates of functionality. But there are other ways, including manual downloading, of getting updated software from Microsoft. After I alerted Microsoft to a problem with the original EULA (it referred to the wrong software components), Microsoft eventually issued a new one for users to agree to (that you probably agreed to in order to get the latest WGA fix) -- one that has some different language. For example, it says:

If you have a properly licensed copy of Windows XP installed, you receive special benefits, which are listed on the following link: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?linkid=39157.

Special benefits? This is sort of like "advantages." What's so special about these benefits? In the history of PC software, the benefits Microsoft is speaking of are not really benefits to us, but rather obligations on behalf of the software vendor to provide licensees with important updates.  Name one software company that considers the updates it issues to legitimate licensees as a special benefit? OK. So Microsoft gives away some software like Internet Explorer and Photo Story.  Before WGA came along, these were not special benefits. The giving away of that and other software has been integral to Microsoft's business model. Now, however, it's a special benefit.

In the EULA, just before the special benefits passage, appears the following text:

This supplement also includes the Windows Genuine Advantage validation tool. The tool will check whether you have a properly licensed copy of Microsoft Windows XP (“Windows XP”) installed. Installation of the validation tool may be required in order to install certain Microsoft software or to use services such as Windows Update.

This is a bit different from the original EULA which referred only to software delivered through Automatic Updates. Now, the scope of the potential deprivation has been broadened to include certain Microsoft software. The language is changing. Microsoft is tightening the screws.  In yesterday's story headlined Microsoft to tighten the Genuine Advantage Screws, Mary Jo Foley wrote:

Come this fall, however, the Redmond software maker is planning to turn up the Genuine Advantage heat in two ways: By baking more Genuine Advantage checks directly into Windows Vista, and by taking aim at PC makers, system builders, Internet cafes and other sources of potentially pirated software...."We built a set of features and a set of functionality that is only available to genuine Windows customers," [Microsoft Platforms and Services Co-President Kevin] Johnson said. "Windows Defender, for example, the anti-spyware for Windows XP and Windows Vista, is available to genuine Windows customers. Windows Media Player 11.0, Internet Explorer 7.0, will be available for download for Windows XP customers who are genuine, and of course those are built into Windows Vista. Future updates to Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player for Windows Vista will require them to be genuine. And certainly there's some premium features built into the Windows Vista operating system that will require genuine validation as well. So we're really trying to amplify the fact that being genuine enables the set of benefits and value to access these types of features and capabilities."

 

There it is again: The language of deprivation if Microsoft's technology thinks you're a pirate, being cleverly couched in terms of the benefits if you're "genuine."  If Microsoft isn't depriving you of something, then that something is a benefit. I should try that one on my kids.  "Hey son... I know that we've been feeding you for the last 16 years no questions asked. But I just realized that I could deprive you of that food if I wanted to. However, since I'm not, you should consider that a benefit of being my son."

Although its EULAs and officials don't come right out and say it, Microsoft's official position is very simple: Make sure your copy of Windows is legitimate, or we will start cutting off your functionality.  It's not the Windows Genuine Advantage program.  WGA doesn't provide us with any additional advantage than what we're already entitled to. It's the Windows Genuine Disadvantage program. It's designed to put suspected pirates of Microsoft's software at a disadvantage.

In reality, the benefit of this program is really Microsoft's. For those users that are running allegedly pirated copies of Windows (some of which could potentially have been corrupted with malware), Microsoft could just as easily use its WGA technology to warn them that something is a amiss, what some of the negative side effects (like malware) might be, and nothing else. No deprivation. No loss of functionality. No forced incarceration into Internet Explorer 6.  At that point, it'd be up to the alleged pirate to decide whether to remedy the problem. But if Microsoft did that, then the benefits to Microsoft would be nil. What benefits am I speaking of? One need look no further back than February 2005 when News.com's Ina Fried reported:

In a presentation to financial analysts last summer, Will Poole, head of the Windows client unit, identified a reduction in unauthorized use of Windows as a key growth opportunity for the business.

Poole is currently senior vice president of Microsoft's Market Expansion Group.  Nevertheless, as I wrote back then, it's a really bad sign when a crackdown on theft is viewed as one of your company's key growth opportunities. 

I'm not questioning the right of Microsoft or any other company to deprive thieves of that which they don't deserve. But in doing so and in communicating to its customers what it's up to, it's incredibly important that technology vendors get two things right.  First, don't disingenuously veil a threat (to thieves) as a benefit to customers (non-thieves).  It's an insult to the intelligence of your customers.

Second, tread not carefully -- but perfectly -- when it comes to technologically enforcing your rights. As fellow Ed Bott pointed out in his image gallery, much is left to be desired in the WGA user experience. It pretty much assumes that if WGA singles you out as a pirate, then, short of a mismatch between a valid Windows Certificate of Authenticity and your instance of Windows (a problem it tells you how to rectify), you are a pirate and the only way out is to (1) pay Microsoft, or (2) continue to run as a deprived Windows user. As I pointed out in another post today, I believe there are circumstances under which any reasonable person (including those at Microsoft) would agree that someone is not a pirate when WGA thinks he or she is. And that's just one scenario. I'm sure there are others.

It is of course Microsoft's perogative to run its business any way it wants to. But, in an effort that's less about customer benefit and more about benefit to Microsoft, Microsoft is adding complexity and treating customers in ways that could backfire -- particularly as its business model is getting challenged by other increasingly legitimate approaches (open source and Web-based delivery of similar functionality) that are less sensitive if not completely immune to the piracy issue. 

Some day in the future, when Microsoft realizes how the WGA program failed to fulfill the supposed key growth opportunity while its disrespectful nature drove paying customers to less complex, equally productive and more flexible and forgiving solutions, someone at the Redmond company will ask what happened? The answer will be the CGA (Customer Genuine Advantage) program: an informal program that's part of a customer's relationship with any business. It doesn't matter whether you're Microsoft or the gas station around the corner. If you treat customers like dirt and insult their intelligence in an effort to solve your own problems, don't be surprised if they use their genuine right to switch providers to their advantage.

Topic: Windows

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  • Did you read this part

    [i]At the same time as it is baking into Vista more Genuine-Advantage-required features, Microsoft is stepping up elements of its Genuine Advantage program aimed at the reseller channel.

    "We expect to do much more as a Windows business to help our partners to sell products based on Genuine Windows to compete with pirates. This is a major opportunity both for Microsoft and our partners, " Windows Client Marketing Chief Sievert told channel partners in July.

    Platforms and Services Co-President Johnson had the same message for financial analysts later that month.

    "There's a higher level of genuine Windows attached to PC shipments in developed markets than emerging markets, which means, if we want to continue to drive growth of Windows client OEM units faster than PC shipments, we've got to have a great compelling value proposition for the user for genuine Windows software and for the channel," Johnson said.

    One element of Microsoft's OEM-focused Genuine Advantage strategy could be increasing the number of copies of Microsoft Office that are preloaded on new PCs.[b] Under an internal Microsoft program known as the Unlicensed PC Initiative, the company is working to reduce piracy by curbing the number of new PCs sold without Windows ? and, increasingly, Office -- preloaded on them. [/b][/i]

    Hmmmm.... smells like antitrust to me.

    Also one of the things that the courts dinged Microsoft on was that before the pathetic consent decree MS got paid for a copy of every CPU shipped if the OEM didn't want to be cut off or pay more than their competitor. This was part of the "No Naked PC" program that MS had going on. In other words it was impossible to not pay for a license for Windows if you bought a PC from a major OEM.
    Edward Meyers
    • Yep, we gotta pay for something many of us erase right out of the box.

      Many, many folks have learned that the OEM EULA dooms a preloaded PC to an early grave.

      WHEN, not if, you must repair it, then you must buy a new license....Oh, and by the way, when you install your new relicensed OS you will also lose all your cherished installs and whatever else you can't recover when you reformat and start completely over.....Yeah, many of us have learned that....The hard way.

      But knowing that, why can't we buy a cheap Dell or eMachine with no OS installed?....We can't only because Microsoft insists we can't...They craft a deal with the PC makers that forces us to pay for "disposable" software....But what they ignore is that our photos, our data, and our wonderful collection of applications are not disposable to us will be lost forever only because their license becomes void.

      Let's be honest about it....Microsoft isn't trying to prevent naked PC's being loaded with pirated OS's, they are attempting to hog the OS market....and the PC makers are allowing it.
      Yodaddy
  • Ok David, time for you to step up.

    Let us hear exactly what you think Microsoft should do to deter thieves from using counterfeit versions of Windows. Forget the "Please Mr. Thief, please would you consider purchasing a key for the illegal version of Windows you are running" BS, because you I and the rest of the world knows that doesn't work.

    How exactly will you deter continued use of pirate Windows versions? Will you somehow come up with a new technology that will never get false positives? Maybe you think MS should contact everyone who fails WGA and ask for proof of purchase?

    Now, please do not try and obfuscate this request with incessant bleating about the minute percentage of people that GENUINELY have been falsely accused. Nothing in real life is 100% black and white.

    So, how will it work in Berlindland?
    Scrat
    • Here's an Idea...

      Here's an idea on how to stop Pirates. Make your software cheap enough that people won't care ( meaning they will pay for it) and Pirates cannot profit. I mean come the price of Windows is really not that cheap especially if you need the professional version.
      jasonpaul
      • Do you remember that guy in Manhatten who tried that?

        It was a social engineering experiment.

        He stood on the street at lunch hour...And he attempted to give away 5 dollar bills to members of the passing crowd...No strings attached....A sincere offer that consisted of a totally a "Genuine Advantage"...just grab the fiver as you passed by and keep walking.

        Do you remember that?....Do you remember how few people accepted his "Genuine Offer" of free money?

        Over 90% refused his offer....Why?...Because it was free!

        People expect to pay a premium price for something worthwhile...They figure if it's inexpensive or free, it must be worthless.
        Yodaddy
    • Stepping up

      Microsoft is in some ways a victim of its own success. What you're really asking is how does Microsoft sustain its revenues as some of the existing revenue streams are running a bit drier than they used to. With each new rev of Windows, fewer people upgrade and, of the ones that do, they take much longer. Same goes for Office.

      Most of Microsoft's competitors with different business models -- for example ones where the software is free to anyone that wants to self-sustain but you must subscribe if you want support or, where you subscribe to an online service, or where a free online service is subsidized by ads -- don't have the sort of legacy businesses that Microsoft has to worry about.

      Personally, I think the subscription model (whether to an online service or to support for product that is otherwise free) is a far simpler and straightforward model than the myriad licensing schemes that Microsoft currently has in place.

      Microsoft could switch to such a model and then it wouldn't have to worry about piracy. It could work the way anti-virus utilities work.... 1 or 2 years of support come with the product and after that you pay for automated support. There's a way to self-sustain, but it's too painful for most so most ones will up their subscription when the time comes.

      Under this model, Microsoft doesn't have to worry about piracy. But, under this model, Microsoft doesn't monetize every copy of Windows either. Ultimately, that could mean that Microsoft is just a different company down the road.

      Other companies have survived worse transitions.

      db
      dberlind
      • right, another article just waiting

        Microsoft could switch to such a model and then it wouldn't have to worry about piracy

        Oh how Microsoft just cut off service just because I did not pay my monthly subscription fees in time. Never mind if the phone company does cuts off your phone line if your bill isnt paid in time.

        Microsoft is a software company. Their main goal is to develop software and not be caught in a accounting mess.

        If there is a market for it they will offer subscription models which makes sense to them and consumers. Currently most consumer have no objection to the software licence method.

        They have every right to not provide the software updates if determined to have an invalid licence. After all all anti-virus companies do that. Try installing an anti-virus software that does not dial back home.
        zzz1234567890
        • I didn't say they didn't have the right...

          .... to not provided software updates if determined to have an invalid license. I did say, in my story, that this sort of program shouldn't be couched as some sort of advantage. It's a twist on words.

          db
          dberlind
      • Sorry David, but you missed the point of the question

        You and I know full bloody well that Microsoft could not suddenly switch licensing models like you are suggesting, plus the subscription model is a farce, and here is why:

        Hypothetically Microsoft spend $500 million on R&D for the "next" version of Windows, which will be sold under your subscription model (for this example we will assume it is the self-sustaining model you mention).
        Under the current license, EVERY user of Windows must pay for it. The support is there for free.
        Under your proposal, only the users of Windows that require support will pay anything to MS.
        So, if you do not require support (which probably amounts to a lot of users), you pay nothing and get an OS for free.
        Now, and I quote you directly:
        [i]"Microsoft is in some ways a victim of its own success. What you're really asking is how does Microsoft sustain its revenues as some of the existing revenue streams are running a bit drier than they used to.[/i]
        Are you seriously telling me that your subscription model would be able to sustain their revenue stream in the same way as the current license model?

        Somehow I doubt it very, very much.

        I asked you to come up with a system that was better than WGA. Can you come up with something that is better than WGA that would fit the current situation that MS is in?
        Scrat
        • Didn't miss the point of your question.

          I didn't miss the point of your question Scrat. Your question corners me like this. Suppose my body is covered with hives and I go to the dermatologist and, after examining my diet, he tells me that I have an allergy to nuts. But I'm addicted to nuts and I can't stop eating them so he gives me ABC hive medication. But the cost of the medication keeps going up. At some point, the doctor says perhaps you should really consider the idea of eliminating nuts from your diet. Your question is the same as me saying to the doctor, "Look, I'm not going to quit the nuts so you figure something else out that doesn't wipe out my bank account." Great. I've cornered the doctor but I still don't have a workable/affordable solution the hives.

          Your question assumes that Microsoft's business model when it comes to furnishing customers with functionality (of which piracy is currently an integral side effect that eats away at the bottom line) is affordable in the current business environment (by that I mean, the multitude of models for the same functionality being offered by Microsoft's competition -- every thing from Desktop Linux to Google). If you go off that assumption, then sure, you've got a great question to which I don't have an answer. I'm suggesting that that's a bad assumption. I'm suggesting that what has worked well for Microsoft and other software companies in the past isn't going to work so well for them in the future. Microsoft is of course free to choose whatever business model it wants. But based on what I'm seeing, what I'm experiencing, and what users/customers are saying to me, there's clearly an appreciation out there for some of the alternative models -- models that aren't nearly as sensitive to privacy. Right now, Microsoft has a lot of those customers and they're probably more than willing to stick with Microsoft -based solutions. But, the more inconvenience and complexity Microsoft introduces into those solutions (things like WGA), the more Microsoft is enticing those customers to consider other technologies that are less complex, less inconvenient, and more flexible.
          dberlind
          • I meant "piracy"

            where that last response says "privacy"
            dberlind
          • Fair comment

            But my question was for you to come up with something that would work right now, in the present, to stem the flow. Whether or not MS's licence model is the correct way forward is another question for another discussion.

            If Microsoft do nothing to reduce the level of pirate versions of XP, what message does this send out for the future e.g Vista?

            I strongly believe that the subscription model is flawed, in the same way that shareware is (looking at it from a financial view). Rick Holzgrafe of Semicolon Software describes these issues [url=http://www.semicolon.com/ShareSuccess/Shareware5.html]here[/url] to further explain what I mean.

            Even worse, is when the only source of income to the software developer is support contracts. Suddenly, it becomes counter-productive to ensure software is bug-free and easy to use. Develop your software to be very powerful, but impossibly hard to use, add a few bugs in the mix and suddenly you have a decent support revenue stream.
            Hardly the way forward for future software development is it?
            Scrat
          • Free work?

            So - reading your original question and your subsequent reply, I'm still left with the impression you are asking one person who already has a job, David B, to do free consulting work fro miKro$loth and solve their problem for them. Gee, How noble of you.
            zclayton2
    • Scrat, not being snotty, but are you too here from Microsoft?

      Really, I'm not attempting to be a smart azz, but your questions-the way you pose them-and the arguments you present make you sound exactly like those unhelpful and insulting folks over on the Microsoft support forums.

      The reason I must ask is because one representitive from there has already showed up here making posts similar to yours...so if you are associated with Microsoft, please say so.

      All that aside, I can't answer for David, but I would first like to see MS clearly and honestly state that they are planning/implimenting an inititive directed squarely at stopping the piracy of Microsoft products....Just spit it out, don't candy coat it and blow smoke up my butt.

      Then I would expect them to describe the process completely with no BS or spin....And also state that it is manditory for anyone that desires ALL future updates of ANY type.

      From there offer a 6 month grace period where people could simply click and test to see if their copies were considered genuine...click and test with the assurance their computer and test results would not be logged durring the grace period....allow 6 months for people to discover if they have an invalid copy and resolve it with Microsoft.

      During the grace period MS would work with invalid license holders to correct any false positives and educate the OEM positives, and also the corrupt/hacked volume licenses in the details of their EULA.

      Once the grace period is over, shut the door and begin forcefully invalidating/de-activating any and all positives.

      Don't lie, don't sidestep, don't plant spyware....Just step up like a man and spit it out.
      Yodaddy
      • Are you serious?

        If I was a representitive of Microsoft, would I be asking David Berlind to sort out my company problems?

        My question is really directed at the torrent of criticism being levelled at WGA, when no one is actually suggesting a better, workable solution.

        Tough talking needs to be followed up by tough action. Microsoft have found themselves in the unenviable position of having to deal with the freeloaders, and unfortunately freeloaders don't really give a rats a$$ if you ask them to stop using illegal software.

        [i]Really, I'm not attempting to be a smart azz, but your questions-the way you pose them-and the arguments you present make you sound exactly like those unhelpful and insulting folks over on the Microsoft support forums.[/i]

        Abrupt and to the point. That's all.

        And no, I am not (thankfully) affiliated with Microsoft in anyway, shape, manner or form.
        Scrat
    • I doubt Microsoft will catch someone real

      Look at the process of how microsoft is doing it, look the people that get blamed, then you can see where the problem is.

      Because the people that get there software to work are spreading it world wide with the idea of, removeing the evil at its root. They could careless about product keys, they don't work because there only good on certain things.
      troubled241
  • Wow!....You Da Man!

    Thank you sincerely and deeply.

    ....I was gonna say that....Exactly like that....Really I was...Except that you beat me to it....And except that I can't say it as well as you.
    Yodaddy
  • EdBott, this Virtual Machine thang....

    Many folks seem to believe Microsoft is going to use WGA to muscle out competing software like VMare...That they will only allow a virual drive if created with MS Virtual Machine and WGA will shutdown any attemp to use a competitors virtual drive.

    Toward that end, Microsoft is already giving away their Virtual Machine and have promised to also give away the Vista release of virtual Machine.

    If that is infact the plan, why don't they simply embed Virtual Machine with Vista? Why keep it a stand alone app?

    As a stand alone it is harder to defend another anti-trust lawsuit....If it's truely integrated, then it's simply part of the OS.
    Yodaddy
    • Actually, Virtual PC may be included with....

      ...some builds of Vista. Earlier this year, Microsoft said that Virtual PC Express (a single VM -capable version of Virtual PC) would be included in two builds: Vista Enterprise and Windows Vista Ultimate. See http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/index.php?p=2649 for some of the details. This may have changed however now that, in the interim, Microsoft has decided to make Virtual PC 2004 SP1 (full-blown) available for free.

      db
      dberlind
  • Subscription plan

    David:

    If they really want to make it an ADVANTAGE instead of a AGRAVATION, I'd take the subscription plan even further. Offer to fragment the OS up a bit. I absolutely hate Outlook Express, DirectX and most of the Multi-media player crap MS has foisted onto the OS. Allow the user to pick and choose what features he wants. I'd love to be able to not load those "features" but also be able to never get bothered by unwanted updates or messages for those applications in any future updates. Amy Customer wants expanded Internet protocols, she can download those modules and install them with some newer form of Windows Installer. Joe wants to play games, let him download DirectX.

    Sell a CDROM or have a secure website, to download/install a basic OS and then choose what chunks you want and offer it at a subscription price. Write an absolutely foolproof Windows Installer to do the dirty work. Insist and design the Installer around a secure method of encryption/compression for the software modules. Use some form of open standard encryption so other software writers could package their software and have it install in the user partition.

    You know what would be the BIGGEST Advantage for Microsoft? NO MORE LAWSUITS. Users could download as much or as little as they liked. The EU could suck wind.

    The operating system gets a protected partition. Users (and their ActiveX surrogates) would not be allowed to record on the OS partition with the exception for OS and User related OS settings. (This would be a great help for preventing Trojans and so forth). All user data gets saved on a User folder on another partition. User programs or applications that do not entail direct Operating System functionality can be recorded on the user drive and will not require a complete re-installation if the system is upgraded. Every User gets his own "Program Files" folder which may or may not have "All-Users" application installations. Registry entries and libraries if required can be stored with the user program or application, no DLL hell because the application will access DLLs it has loaded in its own directory. DO NOT allow the User applications to write to the permanent registry settings (i.e. HK_Local_Machine) Local Group Policy can prevent unallowed OS activity or hardware access by User names or groups.

    Outside of the last few bits, various flavors of Linux already offers that kind of functionality. Windows is in the business of assimulating other vendors, this is an idea that Windows could steal and I doubt anybody in the Linux world would care since its old hat to them! Unix has been doing it for 20 years.

    A service based business model could guarantee a continuous cash flow from a much broader base then they have now, assuming they offer it cheap enough at the basic level. They already own the software and assume that all of us "users" out here know we are renting it from them but everybody thinks they own the copy they paid for. Those of us out here that can't afford to upgrade on Microsoft's schedule currently don't have a choice when MS says we have to. It would be in their best interest to offer a break on the pricing. They want to make people upgrade, than allow for wider customer sales. If Microsoft decides not to support an OS any more (i.e. Win9X) then offer the product up as a subsidiary operation that some 2nd tier third-party company(ies) could operate and offer continuing service for those willing to continue to subscribe to it. Not everybody out there can afford to buy the latest hardware for the latest OS. In the long run it could also allow them to differentiate the versioning they seem to want to do with Vista.

    As anybody knows who's watched TV, Microsoft is the WALMART of software, the sweatshop is a little less obvious. Microsoft is just a lot more greedy and a heck of a lot more stupid about consumers then WalMart.

    If they want to get into the "service" business, the first lesson they need to learn is: DON'T PISS OFF THE PEOPLE THAT ARE THE OPINION LEADERS! All of us geeks that write on these websites and argue endlessly about technical widgetry also have JOBS where we tell our bosses what software to buy etc!
    Xwindowsjunkie