Genuine Advantage? Thou Doest Protest Too Much.
Written by Gordon Fecyk, 7/8/2006
WINDOWS GENUINE ADVANTAGE fell under enough heavy criticism that Microsoft decided to drop a controversial component from it this month. If you really feel the need to remove this from your computer, you can follow Microsoft's instructions.
Actually, the real reason Microsoft dropped WGA notifications, was it started fingering major clients as pirates. Proctor and Gamble was not amused, and I don't blame them. But what does this have to do with bad design? Besides Microsoft not testing WGA thoroughly enough, of course? I believe it has a lot to do with double standards.
Mark Rasch of Securityfocus, Symantec's online magazine, reported a class action suit against Microsoft for its handling of the WGA project:
Indeed, the [Microsoft] EULA here is more onerous and less clear than that which the FTC found actionable for online spyware manufacturer Odysseus, who purported to allow people to download software to make Kazaa P2P software anonymous, but which actually collected personal information and sent adware to the users. In plain terms, spyware EULAs aren't enforceable, and the WGA license sure sounds like a spyware EULA.
Rasch uses the same tone throughout his piece, using the spyware allegation as a push for his own opinion of what WGA allegedly does.
I've even asked some contacts at Microsoft I've gotten acquainted with in an attempt to contact some of WGA's developers. Surely the professionals have better contacts than I. There's a lot of noise out there blasting WGA, and aside from repeated deconstruction of WGA's end user license agreement, there isn't a shred of evidence to support the spyware allegations.
You read that correctly. Not one anti-WGA rant included evidence of WGA sending personal information back to Microsoft.
The only item that comes reasonably close is a writeup on Everything2 that explains WPA, or Windows Product Activation. WGA works from WPA's output, and among other things, WGA raises a flag if your Windows XP installation isn't activated yet. It also raises a flag if you change enough equipment in your computer, something that WPA did since XP's release in 2002. So what's the difference?
I guess the difference is the EULA? The point of contention that has the computer security industry in an uproar because it allegedly reads like a spyware EULA? Surely that agreement doesn't stop the computer security industry, especially if it's allegedly unenforceable. Anti-virus firms release updates within days, or even hours, of new viruses and spyware appearing in "the wild." Yet there isn't a virus definition for WGA. Nor is there a detailed analysis of what WGA does.
Now compare WGA with Kazanon, the software Rasch compares WGA to from 2005. Odysseus' software is in popular anti-spyware definition files. Presumably, the anti-spyware industry analyzed this software to death in spite of Odysseus' over-restrictive EULA.
Show me the data. Show me the spyware definition file for WGA. Show me something besides deconstruction of the WGA EULA, ASAP.
Symantec, sponsors of Securityfocus and suppliers of Mark Rasch's paycheque, uses a similar product activation technique in Norton Antivirus. I know this because I used to use a field installation of Norton to troubleshoot virus infected PCs.
My field kit was simply a hard drive with Windows 2000 and an installation of Norton Antivirus 2004, which would require me to reactivate it on every PC I installed this hard drive into. Eventually I ran out of activations and had to buy multiple licenses, even though I was well within my rights according to Symantec's EULA to do what I was doing. I eventually switched to Grisoft's AVG as a result.
In one sense, I switched from Norton Antivirus to Grisoft AVG because Symantec accused me of pirating their software! All because of their own version of "Symantec Genuine Advantage." Hmph. They didn't even offer me anything for my trouble -- at least Microsoft offered some freebies.
I build computer systems on occasion and support them. I buy System Builder packages of Windows XP to preinstall on these computers, and I even preinstall other software with it so I spend less time on the client site installing it. When WGA came out, I started preinstalling that, too.
Since the release of WGA, not one of my new PC clients were flagged as having "non-genuine" Windows. The only time I've seen a WGA warning was from someone who was not a client, who bought a system that did not include a Windows XP license on their invoice, yet had an installation of Windows XP on it. WGA's report? It apparently used a leaked volume license product key.
I do believe the ones crying the loudest about WGA are the ones who never actually paid for a legitimate installation. Quoting Mark Rasch again:
Presumably, the consumer who obtained a perfectly functional computer from an OEM manufacturer at a fair market price (well, lets assume a slight bargain) was now given the opportunity to give Microsoft more money to prevent piracy.
If you're one of these people who bought a "perfectly functioning computer" at a "slight bargain" and have been flagged by WGA as a "pirate," then I suggest you sue the company that sold you your "perfectly functioning computer." Because neither you nor they paid Microsoft for their product.
And have you actually seen what Microsoft is asking for to become legit? Man, I wish I could get XP Professional for only $149.
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