A WGA success story

What happens when you take your PC in for repairs to a major national computer retailer? Despite paying premium prices, you might not get premium service. In fact, as I discovered this week, you might wind up with a PC full of bootleg software and more troubles than you bargained for.

I’ve spent this week in Arizona visiting old friends, some of whom are also clients. So, naturally, I did a fair amount of PC maintenance over the course of the week, usually just before cocktail hour. In the process of one such visit, I got a firsthand look at Microsoft’s Windows Genuine Advantage program working exactly as it’s intended to work.

My friend Sam (not his real name) runs a thriving custom art business and depends on his Windows PC for creative and business support. In late January he made the mistake of running a so-called registry cleaner, which made such a mess of his system that he decided to start fresh with a clean install. He called his CompUSA rep, brought his PC and a stack of CDs in to the shop, and signed a work order that read “reinstall all programs and XP.”

CompUSA charged him $600 for this job – highway robbery, in my opinion. When he got the PC back, everything appeared to be in working order, but the CD burner didn’t work properly. I traced the problem to a conflict with an ancient version of Roxio’s Easy CD Creator. After removing the incompatible software and reinstalling the device, everything worked again.

Before leaving, I decided it would be useful to make sure he had the most recent updates for his PC, including Internet Explorer 7. Imagine my surprise when a quick visit to Windows Update turned up the news that his copy of Windows XP was “not genuine.” Sure enough, when I looked in the bag of disks that Sam had given to technician, I found his genuine Dell Windows XP restore disks in their original, unopened plastic bag.

For $600, Sam’s tech had installed a bootleg copy of Windows XP. He had also installed a pirated copy of a popular antivirus program. None of the Dell drivers had been updated, and no security updates had been applied. Where did that unauthorized copy of Windows XP come from? I assume that CompUSA doesn’t issue bootleg software to its techs, so the most likely scenario is that the tech downloaded it from a warez site; fortunately, the bogus copy didn’t appear to contain any Trojan horses or other potentially malicious software.

Microsoft’s repair tools worked exceptionally well. The Windows Genuine Advantage webpage included a link to the Product Key Updater, which I used to enter the legitimate product key from the sticker on the side of Sam’s Dell machine. To activate the Windows installation, I made a five-minute call to Microsoft, read a 54–digit number to an automated system, and in turn received a string of numbers from a human being.

The irony is that if the tech had used the legit Windows restore disks from Dell, the entire reinstallation would probably have taken an hour less, and the results would have been cleaner.

As it is, I expect CompUSA will wind up refunding every penny of the $600 that Sam paid them. With service like this, no wonder the company is closing half its stores.


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