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

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.

TOPICS: Microsoft, Outage

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


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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  • It seems as if

    whenever MS implements a new system, of any kind, they just assume that all will work to plan. Kind of like Dr. Evil.
    Michael Kelly
    • Interesting way of putting it

      Of course, no cartoon (or otherwise melodramatic) villain ever accepts blame for anything that goes wrong (his plan is always perfect); it's always blamed on incompetent henchmen, meddling outsiders, or fate.
      John L. Ries
      • Call Mike Meyers

        This would make the perfect script for his next movie.
  • Reliability <> Microsoft

    They know NOTHING of reliability, scalability, or cost control.

    It's good to move far, far away from them. Only then do you realize just how bad the ride was. Think Stockholm Syndrome for computer users.
  • The answer to your questions

    Can be summed up in a simple phrase "We are the only caterer in town" A phrase from a Flintstones episode in which the town caterer made a mistake, but didn't care, simple saying "oh well, I'm the only caterer in town" M$ and its monopoly have everyone in their clutches. If M$ screws up, oh well, live with it, we are the only caterer in town. While its true there are other options (Mac, Linux) but the truth is windows is need to run certain things and until that changes, we will all be hostages to the whims of Redmond.
    • Mistakes like this

      Mistakes like this on a regular basis could result in a push to develop for other platforms. If that happens it may be the beginning of a push to bring Linux or the Mac to an equal level of third party support.

      Microsoft needs to dump WGA and start fighting piracy by making it products more affordable to the average consumer. $400.00 USD is ridiculous for retail versions of both Vista Ultimate and Microsoft Office.

      The limitations on on OEM versions of these products are not very attractive to consumers just to save a few dollars. This leads to piracy especially in poorer countries where every dollar one has determines if they eat or starve.
      • All well and good

        But you have to remember that outside the tech community and a few enlightened souls, very few computer users know there is a difference between Mac and Windows. Fewer still even know what Linux is. I can't tell you how many blank stares I get when I even mention Linux. Maybe this will change, but for the foreseeable future, M$ has everyone by the b**ls and until that changes M$ is the only caterer in town and they know it.
        • I agree

          I entirely agree with you on this point. But things are changing quick. More and more people are becoming aware of alternatives to Microsoft.

          It is only a matter of time before the pendulum swings in favor of other alternatives if these crazy protections schemes continue to piss people off.
    • The answer to your questions = AMEN

      I got popped with the "non-genuine" bug this weekend and as I read all the news on the web from my Ubuntu laptop (Vista desktop as affected) I realized there is little or nothing anyone can do about this. The government and all major utulities operators are probably running some version of Windows and if they go down we all lose.

      I don't know if anyone here actually called MS support regarding this issue, but my first attempt early Saturday yielded me a very cold response from an MS rep that told me I would have to settle the issue with the WGA team on Monday. I guess her assumption was that I was a pirate and she had not been notified by the failure. The second attempt got me to Vista support team but it took them an hour to let me know about the server failure. As soon as I hung up the server was back online and I was authenticated. So this tells me that up until the end their support team was not notified of the failure. This kind of explains the dumb responses that some people got telling them to try to re-authenticate on Tuesday the 28th.

      Linux for me!
      • Re: ...

        Your facts are somewhat incorrect. Government agencies, including state, federal and local entities use a copy of Windows under a Volum License agreement/Enterprise licensing. This version does not require product activation nor does it require a check up on WGA servers. So your are partially incorrect when you say the government goes down if WGA servers go down.

        It's also very immature to think that servers, even WGA, will not have problems and sometimes lose connectivity, does your company's email server never go down?

        But sure, Microsoft should of had backup systems in place, but why? Why waste millions of dollars (Most likely) on setting up backup WGA servers when they rarely ever go down? When was the last time they went down?

        Also, I agree with how Microsoft handles it's RFM policy. If the validation fais and WGA servers cannot be accessed, it doesn't mean they are offline, it could mean the "pirate" disabled or limited the connectivity to the machine, meaning they just found a loop hole around WGA.

        I really don't think a 19 hour outage is enough to warrant this chaos Linux and Mac users seem to cry about.

        Before anyone posts about how I'm a Microsoft fanboy, all my machines run Windows and Ubuntu. I just happen to like Microsoft products over anything else.
        • "I really don't think".... your one valid statement

          As it seems you really don't have the
          capacity to think....., outside the
          Microsoft box, that is.
          Ole Man
        • What? I've lost aero!!!!

          There goes the free world as we know it.


          Keep in mind Tyler, these are people that understand Apple need to take down the web store for hours on end to add or update a product.
          • Its not the fact that it went down

            Its the fact that their own help desk was not informed, and the clients were all assumed to be pirates.

            Sure our email server goes down at work, but the second person to know about it is the person on the help desk, who gets to sit there and face all the calls about it.

            The help desk person does not tell these people that they are obviously not authorized to be sending email through our system. Even if we have not been informed that the servers down, a lot of calls start coming in about email, we check the server first, not blame the client.
            mad tabby
  • This is exactly why Vista is a non-starter for me

    I cannot accept that my computer's OS will suddenly stop working and call me a thief. Thank god a terrorist attack didn't plant a WGA "failure bomb" worm into the wild. That and a script to set the clock ahead 30 days would have been a calamity. If MS WGA servers can fail under a sparse load ("?fewer than 12,000 systems were affected worldwide" - right) what could we expect if a massive load of WGA issues were created in a short amount of time.

    My wife's laptop with XP Pro accused me of pirating Windows when I created a new user account (please don't ask me why - don't know and I don't care) - that laptop now runs ubuntu. I won't be held hostage by anyone, especially a monopolistic software company.
    • Ubuntu is not always an option.

      Gamers, businesses, and people who need software designed specifically for windows can not just up and move to Ubuntu or any Linux distro. These people have to take it in the *** because they depend on Windows for their needs.
      • Ubuntu is not always an option?

        I don't know if this is always the case although it's a valid point. There has been headway in making Ubuntu and other distro's more compatible with MS apps (i.e. Wine), but the trade-off would be in hiring the geeks and techies that are needed to get that kind of stuff working properly.
      • Three words: CUT YOUR LOSSES

        It's easier than ever to switch to Kubuntu Linux (I did). But, Microsoft is a tick that has dug very deeply into your flesh. There will be some pain in getting it completely out.

        For now, for just a very few "legacy" applications, I run Windows XP in a VMware VM on my Kubuntu Linux system (and I don't EVER run "Windows Update" on it). It works very well.

        One day I will shut that VMware VM off for the last time.
        • Not realistic

          People who depend on the Microsoft eco system in their business dealings can not just cut their losses. This could drive them out of business.

          The world is not a simple as "cut your losses".
          • There must be 50 ways to leave your lover

            Just step out the back, Jack. And, set yourself free.

            Paul Simon was right.

            P.S. In all seriousness... Of course the difficulty of getting the Microsoft tick completely out will vary. One must be smart about it. If you never start the work, you'll never get there. If you choose to submit to Microsoft's continued customer abuses, you have no one to blame but yourself. I'm not going out of business. I'm not going to losing money (saving it actually). And, I'm not going to run Windows notebooks, workstations, or servers anymore.
          • So you get paid to fix MS's messes?

            Too bad. You may be needed more and more for fewer and fewer clients. But I won't be needing you ever.

            I did switch to Fedora Core 6 and run Win2k as a VMWare virtual machine. It runs those pesky Windows apps, even the ones that need hardware keys, just fine will I move to Linux applications, and there are many, that are compatible with all of MS's Office tools including MS Project.

            Basically, your type is a loss that I have cut. Thanks anyway.