Since its release, the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) has come under nothing but intense scrutiny, mainly because of questionable actions and misidentification of software pirates. Now, roughly a month after Microsoft temporarily cleared up the former, it also wants to stop rumors stating that the WGA falsely identifies legitimate users as pirates. According to WGA team member Alex Kochis, “Of the hundreds of millions of WGA validations to date, only a handful of actual false positives have been seen.” Does that mean that most users who feel that they are incorrectly criminalized for software piracy are actually guilty? In short, yes it does.
Of the estimated 300 million PCs with the WGA tool installed, Microsoft statistics show that one in every five PCs fails the test. From those that fail, 80 percent are due to a stolen volume licensing key. The other 20 percent of failures occur thanks to a hodgepodge of reasons including tampering, hacking, and broken installations. Kochis says that users who claim to be running genuine copies of Windows but are still caught by the WGA fall right into the previous criteria, although they may not why.
Typically, someone who believes that their copy of Windows is genuine but is trapped by the WGA can be placed into one of the following four categories.
* A person purchased what was believed to be a genuine Windows distribution, but was actually counterfeit * A second PC was illegally activated with a single licensing key * A friend offers to repair or enhance a PC with a free upgrade, but installs the upgrade with an illegal key * A computer repair shop, as part of a restoration, installs the wrong version/edition/installation for the given system. WGA consequentially detects the mismatch and fails the system.
Each scenario mentioned above is considered software piracy by Microsoft. While the user may see the situation very differently, the company considers the bust a success thanks to WGA. Basically, WGA is considered to be functioning as designed. When a real false positive occursmeaning a customer was incorrectly identified as using an illegal copy of Windowsit is typically due to a data entry error at Microsoft.
The company claims that it takes every report received from WGA feedback very seriously. It has a team designated to investigate each assertion individually, and many times it will give the customer a valid copy of Windows just for detailing how he came across the unauthorized version of Windows in the first place. It’s a generous solution, especially if many customers know that their copy of Windows is illegal.
While Microsoft struggles to convince consumers that the WGA is harmless, most are going to have a hard time accepting the fact that the application isn’t out to pin them down as a software buccaneer. Nevertheless, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight to Microsoft’s attempts at curbing piracy. Maybe it’s just time to accept the fact that Microsoft is watching.