The real reason(s) behind Microsoft's move to exorcise WGA from IE7

The real reason(s) behind Microsoft's move to exorcise WGA from IE7

Summary: A day after Microsoft rolled out a refresh of Internet Explorer (IE) 7 that no longer requires Windows Genuine Validation (WGA) checks, industry watchers are speculating as to why the company did so. Why do you think the Softies made the move?

TOPICS: Browser, Microsoft

A day after Microsoft rolled out a refresh of Internet Explorer (IE) 7 that no longer requires Windows Genuine Validation (WGA) checks, industry watchers are speculating as to why the company did so.

The real reason(s) behind Microsoft’s move to exorcise WGA from IE7The IE team, for its part, will say nothing more than what it posted on October 4 to the IE Team Blog:

"Because Microsoft takes its commitment to help protect the entire Windows ecosystem seriously, we’re updating the IE7 installation experience to make it available as broadly as possible to all Windows users"

In other words: Microsoft was worried that "pirates" might not be protected by all the security goodness the company has added to IE, so it decided to remove piracy checks from the IE 7 download process.

Not surprisingly, there are other theories as to why Microsoft removed WGA from the browser. Perhaps Microsoft decided that WGA was enough of a deterrent to result in IE 7 failing to gain marketshare as fast as the company would like. From Ars Technica:

"The move (to release an IE 7 refresh sans WGA) is remarkable because it is the first time that Microsoft has removed WGA checks from a product in order to increase the attractiveness of that product. It's difficult to see this as any but an attempt to get as many users as possible to install IE7, even those who have pirated Windows."

According to data from the market researchers at Net Applications, IE 6.X currently has 42.75 percent of the worldwide browser market. IE 7 has 34.6 percent. Firefox 2.0 has 13.7 percent. Both IE 7 and Firefox 2 share is growing, Net Applications says (though given Firefox's smaller user base, Firefox is growing more quickly).

I think Microsoft's move to decouple WGA from IE7 as aimed less at attracting the "pirated software" crowd -- as large as that contingent may be. Instead, I think Microsoft realizes that it is losing browser share to Firefox (and, a lesser extent, other competitors) primarily among more technical users. These kinds of users are more likely to be among those who are anti-WGA, I'd wager, equating repeated authentication checks with DRM.


Other reasons you think Microsoft might have pulled the WGA plug on IE 7? Do you expect the company to cut WGA from other products, too? If so, which ones?

(Microsoft Internet Explorer 7. Image by kk+. CC 2.0) 

Topics: Browser, Microsoft


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).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Poll is broke

    I vote for one thing and it shows total votes: 1 and 100% to a different choice.
  • ditto

    same here
  • RE: The real reason(s) behind Microsoft's move to exorcise WGA from IE7

    Of course even if more people install it, that doesn't mean that they use it. I let my PC autoupdate with IE7 a long time ago, but I don't use it, I use Firefox. They can say people have the product which is free installed big deal. Show me the usage statistics that is the only way to measure the browser adoption rate. Though also hardest to collect since you'd have to use the web logs from a large enough sampling of websites, and websites of all types.
    • Firefox All The Way

      I have IE7 on my Vista machine, but I still use Firefox on it....and considering I'm moving it back to XP later on this year I'll be on Firefox again without IE7 at all.
    • A number of companies try...

      ... to monitor the browsers used to access a variety of websites as you suggest. Though given the difficulties of making users unique and identifying the browsers actually in use, the numbers are probably not very precise.

      Still, there have been documented cases in which people have stated they use FireFox and anecdotal evidence of other users. The software has been successful enough in the anti-Microsoft market that Opera's growth potential has been significantly stunted. So FireFox has crushed the competition in its niche, no question.
      Anton Philidor
      • "Anti-Microsoft Market"

        You make it sound like it's such a bad thing. Like maybe it's immoral *not* to choose MS-products.

        Maybe you can suggest to the appropriate elected officials that it should be a crime for consumers to discriminate against successful companies for non-economic reasons.
        John L. Ries
        • Buy what you like...

          ... for any reason you choose. Identifying a market by its opposition to a product needn't indicate disapproval of those in the market.

          Still, I can see your point. If the anti-Microsoft market was based on subjective factors and excessive feelings, then being part of that market would indicate someone was immoderate. While your thought may be true, I wouldn't make that accusation without better evidence. That would indicate I was immoderate, myself.

          ---------------- ;-) -----------------------------
          Anton Philidor
          • I do

            Seems to me, though, that you have a long record of insinuating that MS is entitled to its dominant position in the market and that it's somehow wrong to either compete against them, or to avoid doing business with them.

            As noted long ago, it is not the duty of either governments or the general public to support successful businesses. Rather, a business is successful if it does a good enough job of providing goods and/or services that people want/need, that people will voluntarily give it sufficient patronage to allow it to be profitable. When any business stops doing that, then it has ceased to be successful, regardless of its ability to retain dissatisfied customers who feel they have nowhere else to go.

            Indeed, the history of MS is a testament to the notion that grudging customers are the worst enemies of any business.
            John L. Ries
          • Servers

            I think Microsoft created the network effect for pc's when it was significant to the industry. That is people buy Windows for the applications, and application developers gain from having only one operating system for which to write, so they write for Windows.

            That's an observation which even Judge Jackson had to accept, though he avenged himself by noting the "applications barrier to entry" for potential competitors.

            That's probably the closest I've come to endorsing Microsoft.

            Though I also think the criticisms of Microsoft should be well founded. People expect Microsoft products, and any dissatisfactions have not reduced sales much. And the company has gained substantial market share in servers among customers who/which are among the most likely to be disaffected.

            There are greater complications than I discussed in that last paragraph, but it's reasonable to observe that Microsoft's reputation is not as bad as you've asserted. The most respected and admired brand name in the world (perhaps again this year) is Microsoft.
            Anton Philidor
          • Seems to me...

            ...that as respected and widely admired a company as you claim MS to be would have many fewer legal troubles. Other companies would be afraid to sue them, for fear of offending their own stockholders and employees. Politicians would be eager to block any governmental action against them for fear of losing their jobs. Long ago, Walt Disney and the company that bears his name did have that sort of political clout (part of the reason for the current copyright mess), because he was really was that popular. Ironic that the national government with whom MS appears to have the best relationship is China (where the leaders don't have to worry about re-election and all political dissent is ruthlessly suppressed).

            If MS' overwhelming market dominance was really a reflection of how popular the company is, then why is the free software movement such a threat to them? Why bother vilifying and impeding an irrelevant fringe group that has no chance to be otherwise (assuming you're right)? Why try so hard to insure the loyalty of OEMs and software developers if 90% of end users will choose MS products anyway, simply because they're the best software products on the market, given the prices?

            If things are as you and others (particularly John Carroll) claim, then MS' behavior is completely irrational.
            John L. Ries
          • Your logic

            doesn't fit reality. <br>
            Being well liked and working to keep it that way are not mutually exclusive. That is just a fact of life. <br>
            It would be very difficult to come up with any other situation where a company or a talent, for example, doesn't have to work hard, in a variety of ways, to maintain the size of it's following with competition in place.
          • You're correct

            [i]but it's reasonable to observe that Microsoft's reputation is not as bad as you've asserted[/i[

            That's true. Microsoft is again one of the most respected companies in the world (though it does depend on who's doing the list, companies vary in ranking from list to list) but they do seem to be on all the lists.
            John Zern
          • Xunil: Companies don't play hardball...

   remained well liked. MS' actions over the last decade have not been those of enormously popular and highly respected company striving to remain on top, but those of one that is afraid of losing its dominant position because the end user has no real loyalty to MS (it's merely the default).
            John L. Ries
          • Branding and Loop back to the Original Query

            I recalled something different as to the world's top rated brand name, so I looked
            it up. For 2006, #1: Google, #2 Apple. Microsoft was #15.

            Url source:

            Now rated does not mean respect or admiration, so you may have a citation which
            supports your assertion that Microsoft is the most respected and admired brand
            (and casual assumption that it's number 1 again).

            Now given that the estimated usage share of Firefox exceeds the installed base
            rate of non-Microsoft desktops, it must follow that there are Microsoft customers
            who prefer to use a non-Microsoft browser. I think you made some comment
            about Firefox winning over the anti-Microsoft crowd (and perhaps I
            misunderstood your point) but there are people who choose Microsoft for their
            operating system (it's the applications, make sense to me), their office suite, and
            choose Firefox (or Opera, to a lesser degree) for their browser. It doesn't feel as
            though these people are anti-Microsoft in their entirety.

            But let's go back to the question of the day: why was WGA validation removed?
            Okay, to allow IE7 on unauthorized Windows installations makes sense to me.
            What doesn't make sense is that this accounts for the (I gather) slow rate of
            upgrade to IE7.

            Given my rule of thumb that people say "Things are going well," when things
            aren't because they need to fool others, themselves, or everyone, I'd have to say
            VIsta, IE7, and Office 2007 are underperforming projections. Business as usual for
            Redmond is still massively profitable, but something is changing out there.
          • John L. Ries: That's just bias

            Too many companies to name if their dirty laundry was brought to light perceptions would change. Simply because they've not been put under the microscope yet doesn't mean it's not there. Apple, Google, Cisco, IBM, Phillip Morris, AT&T, Halliburton..the list is endless. Each of these companies in their own way has done everything it could to protect it's marketshare. Google has said publically that pushing the envelope and boundries in every nation on Earth is part of their business plan in which they plan to win more suits than lose. <br>
            IBM, forget about it. <br>
            Apple is a highly aggressive multi-billion dollar muti-national company that plays as hard as the best of them.
            you're fooling yourself if you think this is somehow isolated to Microsoft. The Linux movement itself has behaved horribly in it's attempt to gain marketshare virtually trying to license proprietary code out of existence. <br>
            It's all in your mind.
      • i'm not anti-microsoft

        those days ended a long time ago, but I do use firefox. Why? Because I think it's a better browser.

        I think Firefox's user base encompasses many anti-MS types, but it also has a lot of tech savvy people, who liked Firefox better than IE6, simply because it had a better interface and arguably because it was perceived as more secure (which it probably was before it became popular and thus targeted by malware developers.

        Personally, I don't think it's important to check if users are unique, so long as the site sample is broad in topics and thus they end up with a diverse set of users.

        After all, isn't the most important thing how what percentage of page hits are from which browser? If I'm good for 20,000,000 page hits a day, using Firefox, (because I'm that fast) and m 200 siblings (who are exclusive to IE7) are good for 1 or 2 every few days, does it matter that 99.5% of users are on IE7?

        Eh..maybe it does....I guess Advertisers like unique eyeballs....but with such low usage, they'll be lucky if anyone else from my litter sees any particular ad.
  • RE: The real reason(s) behind Microsoft's move to exorcise WGA from IE7

    Personally, they can remove WGA from the OS next. Fat chance, I know. I still can't get my head wrapped around the idea that a technical error (on MS' part) can result in my system being shut off from afar.

    Grrr. WGA was a bad idea and should be given a quiet burial ASAP.

    You can leave OGA in for all I care. I can afford (usually) to lose Office for a day or so, but not the OS.
    • OMG

      You can tell Microsoft to KMA. WGA was a huge PITA. AAMOF OEMs dont' install that POS because IE would change new systems to being DOA. ADN Microsoft will remove much of their DRM systems from Windows. IMHO, Microsoft will be better off. ATEOTD Open Source will have washed away part of Microsoft's Marketshare. ATYS to refute this will be pointless as I will not listen. TTL, other system has a BSOD.
      • BTDBA

        Translated to... Beaten to Death by Acronyms...

        I will now amuse myself wondering if this ( is for real...
        • "Your Password Must Be at Least 18770 Characters" too funny!

          How long do you think it takes to log on anyway? I bet updates that require multiple restarts are a real bear - LOL!!!