The WGA fiasco continues

When it comes to Windows Genuine Advantage, Microsoft appears to have the reverse Midas touch - everything they touch turns to lead and crashes to the ground with a thud. The latest episode? A set of instructions for removing one of the buggy WGA modules has errors that would embarrass a rookie tech editor.

[Update 30-June 9:30AM PDT: Apparently someone at Microsoft reads this blog. Several of the errors listed in this post have now been corrected. (One still remains.) The link to KB921914 leads to the revised article.]

How many ways can Microsoft screw up in the Windows Genuine Advantage fiasco? Whatever the number is, you can now increment it by one.

A brand-new Knowledge Base article (KB921914) explain How to disable or uninstall the pilot version of Microsoft Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications.

Someone forgot to run it past a tech editor, though, because both sets of instructions contain mistakes that will, at a minimum, confuse inexperienced Windows users.

Mistake #1: The instructions (step 2b in both procedures) tell you to open Control Panel and then “Double-click Add or uninstall programs.” The correct name of this Control Panel icon is Add or Remove Programs.

Mistake #2: Both sets of instructions say “locate and then click Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications.” You will not be able to find this item on the list until you click the Show updates check box. And then you’ll have to know to look in the Windows XP – Software Updates category, which contains 59 items on one well-used computer I looked at - and those items are not listed in alphabetical order.

These are both rookie mistakes. Whoever wrote these instructions did so under time pressure and didn’t do the basic sanity check of having an independent third party try out the steps and report on any inconsistencies.

And here’s something that isn’t covered at all in the KB article. I just tried to uninstall the WGA Notifications software from my wife’s notebook. The instructions say to check the version number:

Make sure that the WGA Notifications version that exists on the computer is a pilot version. The version format for the pilot version is 1.5.0532.x. In this case, you can uninstall versions 527-532 only. For example, you can uninstall versions that range from 1.5.0527.0 to 1.5.0532.2.

OK, but on her PC the version number is 1.5.0526.0, and it was installed on May 6, 2006. That version number is earlier than any of the so-called pilot versions. Does that mean it’s a pre-pilot version? Alpha code? Why can’t that version be uninstalled?

I have three computers running Windows XP here. None are running a removable version of the WGA Notifications tool, so I can’t test the rest of the steps. If you want to play tech editor and report on any additional errors in this article, leave them in the comments.

Update 29-June, 7:15 PDT: In the Talkback section, fellow ZDNet blogger Adrian Kingsley-Hughes points out some errors in the sections of these instructions that I was unable to test personally:

Just going through the manual uninstall process. Check out the subkeys you have to delete.

First, there's a dupe:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT\ CurrentVersion\Winlogon\Notify\WgaLogon
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT\ CurrentVersion\Winlogon\Notify\WgaLogon

Second, this key looks bogus and I can't find it:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows \CurrentVersion\removeremove\WgaNotify


Via e-mail, Adrian points out two additional mistakes:

For step 3 of the instructions, you can't rename WgaTray.exe to WgaTray.old without first making Windows show file extensions for known file types (it would be renamed to WgaTray.old.exe)

On step 8, there is no WgaLogon.dll and WgaTray.exe to delete because they have already been renamed

I've detailed the process here:

Like I said, sloppy.