Microsoft’s WGA Failure Earns Zoon Nomination
August 25th, 2007
Daniel Eran Dilger
One disadvantage to Microsoft’s Windows Genuine Advantage DRM program–which forces Windows users to verify their software as “not-stolen” in order to receive certain patches and updates, including Internet Explorer 7–is that Microsoft’s WGA server is not as highly reliable as Microsoft likes to advertise.
When Microsoft’s Windows Genuine Advantage server–presumably also running Windows–goes down, as it did this weekend, users attempting to verify their copy of Windows are automatically treated as counterfeiters and their Windows software goes into a “reduced functionality mode.”
For Windows Vista users, that means the new Aero window appearance–Microsoft’s copy of Mac OS X’s Quartz–is turned off, reverting Vista Ultimate into plain old Windows XP.
Even XP users are affected by the WGA failure, so the problem affects more than just the few who shelled out hundreds of dollars for the Vista upgrade. But most embarrassingly, Vista users are experiencing significant performance gains from the crisis, as disabling Aero graphics–the most obvious new feature in Vista–has resulted in users reporting a huge boost in performance.
The WOW Stops Now.
So, while WGA is intended to police piracy, it’s really just highlighting the true failure of Vista for the willing few who paid extra specifically to upgrade for the WOW experience. Microsoft posted a message asking users to try again in four days, hoping that by Tuesday, the company will have the server back up:
“I’m sorry to inform you that the Windows Genuine server might be down for few days. I have escalate [sic] the issue to our Genuine team, kindly try to validate again on Tuesday 28 Aug 2007.”
Until then, Windows users were left under house arrest as suspected thieves and their systems set in feature lockdown mode.
Profiteering on Overpriced Software to Help Consumers.
Microsoft announced the WGA program in early 2005 as a way to stop consumers and businesses from being “hurt by counterfeit software,” saying in a press release that “many companies that sell legitimate software have difficulty competing with the artificially low prices offered by software counterfeiters.”
That was bitterly ironic to note, as the only software protected by WGA is Windows, which through Microsoft’s exclusive OEM licensing deals has an artificially low price that prevents any real competition to Windows. At the same time, Windows is priced far higher than other desktop operating systems, and has increased in price as other PC hardware and software cost have gone down. Microsoft is earning record profits on Windows distribution, 80% of which it reports comes from bundled licensing.
As an incentive to install the WGA DRM tool, Microsoft offered users a free “Winter Fun Pack 2004” and discounts and trial offers for its online services. When those weak incentives failed, the company began pushing Windows users to install WGA as a “critical software update,” which is dishonest because WGA does not solve any critical issues for users; it is merely an anti-piracy tool.
Further, any attempts to work around Microsoft’s WGA after installing it, including efforts to work around Microsoft’s own server meltdown, have been criminalized by the US Congress under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Microsoft’s Illegal-to-Remove Spyware.
Through 2006, WGA was set to contact Microsoft every day; after consumer complaints and lawsuits described the system as spyware, Microsoft announced plans to only have the system phone home every two weeks.
Windows users are now required to download and install WGA in order to obtain new versions of Windows Media Player, Internet Explorer, and Windows Defender, which is–somewhat ironically–Microsoft’s own anti-spyware tool.
This lines up Microsoft’s WGA as a second nominee for the August Zoon Awards for spectacularly bad work in promoting the regression of human achievement.
Microsoft’s nomination follows yesterday’s announcement naming ZDNet shill George Ou for publishing fact-refuting, intellectually embarrassing misinformation. Readers will have an opportunity to vote, and there’s five days left for nominations, so don’t hold back with your own.
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