Microsoft to modify Windows Genuine Advantage anti-piracy scheme

Microsoft to modify Windows Genuine Advantage anti-piracy scheme

Summary: Microsoft is making changes to its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) anti-piracy strategy via a coupleof modifications it will implement in Vista Service Pack (SP) 1 and Windows Server 2008 next year.


Microsoft is making changes to its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) anti-piracy strategy via a couple of modifications it will implement in Vista Service Pack (SP) 1 and Windows Server 2008 next year.

Microsoft to modify Windows Genuine Advantage anti-piracy schemeMicrosoft is doing away with "reduced functionality mode" for individuals that its WGA activation and validation scheme deems to be running "non-genuine" software. The company also is plugging two WGA loopholes that pirates have been exploiting successfully.

Microsoft is attributing the changes it is making to "feedback from customers and partners."

Microsoft announced plans for its WGA changes on December 4. The Release Candidate build of Windows Vista that is expected to go to testers before the end of this week will not include the changes. But Microsoft will introduce the changes to future test builds of Windows SP 1 before the final version is released in the first quarter of 2008. Ditto with Windows Server 2008 -- the current Windows Server 2008 test builds do not include the WGA changes, but some future builds will. Windows Server 2008 is slated to be released to manufacturing in early 2008.

Microsoft is disabling two of the most common venues via which partners attack Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008: the "OEM BIOS exploit," which involves pirates modifying system files on OEM-pre-installed copies of Vista, as well as and the "Grace Timer exploit," via which pirates reset the "grace time" limit between installation and activation.

At the same time, instead of punishing customers whose copies of Windows are deemed pirated by automatically degrading their functionality, Microsoft is taking a new tack: It will deliver to potential piracy victims "clear and prominent notices about the status of their system and how to get genuine," according to a Microsoft press statement. "(users) won't lose access to functionality or features, but it will be very clear to them that their copy of Window Vista is not genuine and they need to take action." (Microsoft officials said they didn't have a screen shot to share of the new notification system for WGA.)

So what do Microsoft watchers think of these changes?

"I like where (the) WGA (team) is taking it. It's a kind of zen-like compromise," said Roger Kay, President of Endpoint Technologies Associates. "The black screen and continuous notices are annoying enough to get all but the hardcore thieves to true up, and yet Microsoft isn't really taking any overtly draconian measures to enforce its IP. It's as if Solomon divided the baby perfectly down the middle. The company will still use advanced engineering to find the hacks, but is taking a gentler, but probably more effective, approach to enforcement."

Chris Swenson, Director of Software Industry Analysis with the NPD Group, concurred:

"I think the changes are meaningful. I think this shows that Microsoft has learned from the past product activation mistakes of, say, Intuit, and has taken a somewhat 'softer' approach when dealing with potential victims of piracy."

Microsoft also announced two new data points, regarding WGA, this week. First, Microsoft reminded company watchers that five percent of its growth in Windows client during its most recent fiscal quarter is attributable directly to fighting piracy via WGA. Said Endpoint's Kay:

"The big news in that announcement is how much money WGA is contributing to the bottom line. Microsoft's theory is, if piracy is 35 percent overall, but only 10 percent of pirates are hardcore, then it can increase its revenue by, say, 40 percent just by herding in the errant, but not evil, users. It can leave the nasty guys for another day."

The other big claim -- which Microsoft has yet to substantiate via an independent third-party researcher (but which it has unearthed on its own): Vista's piracy rate so far is half of Windows XP's.

"Given the impact that this is going to have on Microsoft's top line -- Microsoft believes that WGA and other efforts have translated into OEM sales that are outpacing overall PC sales growth - I think the Wall treet is going to start paying attention, Swenson said.

What's your take on Microsoft's planned changes? Substantial? Cosmetic? A good start with lots more needed to make WGA more palatable?

Topics: Operating Systems, Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Piracy, Security, Software, Windows


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • As the old song goes....

    "We won't get fooled again". Bravo Microsoft for combating software piracy! Long live WGA! Feel the WOW:
  • Nice but what of XP's WGA?

    Anyone know what the change to XP's WGA that Windows Update has is about?
    Mr. Big
  • RE: Microsoft to modify Windows Genuine Advantage anti-piracy scheme

    The OEM BIOS hack was the best because it cracked Vista without patching/modifying Vista files. It only added a device driver.
  • RE: Microsoft to modify Windows Genuine Advantage anti-piracy scheme

    "The other big claim ??? which Microsoft has yet to substantiate via an independent third-party researcher (but which it has unearthed on its own): Vista???s piracy rate so far is half of Windows XP???s."

    Maybe the pirates are waiting for SP1 :)
    • Thieves ain't dumb

      Who, indeed in their right mind would want to steal that POS? The first thing many users/administrators do is format it off their HDDs anyway and install a proven OS! After 3 weeks of Vista, I bit the bullet and installed my OS of choice on my new laptop and haven't lookd back since.
  • Bloatfarm Junkware

    Ho-hum. Who cares? In the future, no one will be using Vista anyway because it is such a pig OS that, on a comparative basis, offers nothing. So, who cares?

    Wow, once again the Bloatfarm fixes something that is, at best, marginal instead of fixing the real problem: Vista.

    Now, mind you, WGA is a true piece of fraudulent sh!t from its inception. Really, what is the advantage TO THE USER of WGA. Answer: Zero. The advantage is all to the Redmond Bloatfarm.

    All WGA does is slow the user down; it offers him no advantage; moreover, it was fraudulantly inserted even when users did not want it.

    It should be renamed Windows Genuine Fraud - another piece of fake named, junkware from the oppressive, evil Bloatfarm
    Jeremy W
    • You are right!

      There no advantage to the user. In fact it is more of a pain every month they seem to update it.

      Also why limit Windows user to 5 installs before calling it in? The way I see it you should be able to have unlimited installs after all we paid for it.

      WGA hasn't stopped the pirates it just cause headaches for legit users.

      example: I have cerebral palsy and had to call and the lady couldn't understand the last set of digitals I was saying so they accuse me of having a pirate copy.

      I hung up and called back and got someone that took the time top confirm all the id code and got me back up and running. Also voice activation systems hate mine voice.
    • Thankyou

      Thanks for your intelligent and informative comment
      • You have to be kidding!(nt)

        • Who's joking...

          I fully agree with Jeremy. Now just wait until Microsoft goes to a subscription system with Windows 7. Then you'll get to pay for the OS multiple times, over and over again...
          hasta la Vista, bah-bie
    • For the factually challenged

      More people use Vista then all of the Apple users and linux users combined. The "bloatfarm" is alive and doing well.
      • Not a scientific study. Proves nothing.

        That survey is not a scientific study and proves nothing. It should be used as interesting anecdotal information only.
      • Web hit stats are not valid for this

        If web hit statistics are valid (they aren't), here is one that paints a dimmer picture for Vista:
      • For the lemmings out there...

        Of course they use it because they've used Windows for the last 15 years and don't know any better.

        When you monopolize 93% of the market, you can program the lemmings to accept anything.
        hasta la Vista, bah-bie
  • Well, I still don't like it

    but its an improvement.
  • RE: Microsoft to modify Windows Genuine Advantage anti-piracy scheme

    This one move in the right direction but Vista still blows chunks.
  • "It can leave the nasty guys for another day.???

    doesn't really seem fair does it... forget about the real pirates making tons of $$$ on illegally sold copies of M$ software-- go after the middle class families with 3 kids and 4 computers and make THEM pay up.

    And yes, before all the zealots light their blow torches, I know "pirated" is "pirated" but geez, isn't ANYONE going to go after the REAL pirates and REAL illegal downloaders-- you know, the ones MAKING MONEY FROM THEIR PIRATING????
    • Well the issue here is...

      Those who make a ton of money from it, they can afford Justice and those who can not afford it get persecuted oops I mean prosecuted.
    • Why should the little guy pay?

      Thsi is a fallacious premise. Sure, the little guys might have to pay when they are caught, but who made the choice to go for the cheaper product in the first place? This is something that might well be useful in showing the little guys and even his kids that it truly doesn't pay to try to get something for nothing. I paid full retail for my Vista Ultimate and Microsoft has a number of times gone through the verification procedure without questioning anything. Maybe in the end people will get the message that it really doesn't pay to sneak around the establishment and abolish the market for the pirated copies so that there will no longer be any profit motive active to foster such activities.
    • Nasty guys make their $$ by selling to the little guys

      The reason the nasty pirates make their $$$ is because they install fake copies on systems but charge for the real OS. The end user then ends up with a fake copy.

      So the idea is, make the end user REAL AWARE that it's fake, and the bad guys won't be able to do this anymore.

      It's like, the way to go after heroin smugglers is to round up all their customers and get them into rehab (formerly, into jail).

      That's the idea, anyway. This is what Microsoft keeps saying is the big problem, and this action is entirely consistent with that.

      I'm not sure I buy into Microsoft's worldview about the nature and extent of the problem, in this country at least. I suspect this model is more accurate when viewed globally than just here.

      To extend this a couple steps beyond a serious answer:

      I can't resist pointing out, the REAL way to drive the smugglers out of business is to distribute free drugs. Pricing policy is tricky, and I'm biased (as a user), but lowering prices would definitely reduce piracy while expanding the market. (But the optimum price for expanding the market -- $0 -- is definitely not optimal for expanding direct profits).

      And I'll save the Linux fanfolk from extending my metaphor to include: handing out free drugs only expands the market to cover those willing to live as drug addicts! Which is valid so far ass you're willing to equate using Windows and drug addiction...