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Thursday, August 3, 2006
Who Has What Right?

Recently Microsoft (MS) has been struck with much ink flowing as a result of their Windows Genuine Advantage Program. At some level, thisis a piece of software placed on your computer to verify if your copy of Windows is genuine or a forgery. At some level everyone must agree that MS has the ability to verify that your operating system is legal. Or, so I would assume.

The initial issue was that this WGA app was "phoning home" frequently. There would appear to be no valid reason for it to do so. Once it determines you have a legal operating system, its task should be completed. Why would anyone replace a legal system with an illegal one? (Well, someone probably has an answer to this question, but that is really beyond where we are going!)

So, why would the product continue to contact MS? Everyone becomes suspicious at this point and accuses MS of all sort of nasty motives. So, it appeared that MS backed off and allows one to load all updates except WGA.

There is a new string of messages and notes floating around the web suggesting the return of WGA with a new mission. That mission is as protector of the operating system. If it is genuine, apparently nothing happens, but if it is illegal, the WGA will have a kill switch to turn off the operating system.

Now, I have to admit, on the surface, this strikes me as being ok. Microsoft has fought counterfeiting for years. Millions of illegal copies of Windows flow out of various places around the globe. The same is true of many other companies software packages as well. Haven't you ever gotten one of the emails advertising 'cd only' products with no documentation, and maybe no serial numbers? Illegal copies of software is a major criminal activity on a global scale.

There is no reason I can think of that MS should not be allowed to combat this issue. If you install a new copy of Windows (and many other products) you have to activate the product. Failure to do so causes the product to "die" in 30-60-90 days. No one objects to this. So, why object to killing the product after 120-180-360 days? This appears to be equally valid.

However, an example of the concerns is demonstrated by this posting on ZD Net. The concern is that WGA will do more than just kill the software. Should MS be allowed to turn the software off if you do not load WGA? I guess the question might be, what is the difference between WGA and the initial activiation? If a piece of illegal software was activated initially, how did that happen? Why not run the WGA test at activation and avoid the need for WGA?

The answer, I suppose, is that in the future, MS should be able to do this. But, there are millions of illegal copies already installed. How does MS fight these situations? WGA appears to be the answer.

So, should those of us who have legal copies become upset at the concept of Microsoft double-checking our copies and requiring us to download and install the tool that accomplishes the checking?

I would think not, but I am trusting enough to assume Microsoft would not take advantage of the tool to view, verify, and steal other information. For example, I frequently use Dreamweaver and do not use FrontPage. I use Dreamweaver for design and Visual Studio for development. Perhaps, in an effort to promote the new, not yet released product currently called Expressions, Microsoft decides to change their approach to force me to do away with Dreamweaver. They gather all of this information with a tool similar to WGA.

That would be unfair. That is what a lot of people fear. However, I suspect the fear is found mostly among two gorups. The first group is the one using illegal software. The other are developers who just do not like having such a powerful player in the software arena. The ideas of open source and the player ruling the system via the blogs may be overplayed. This casues the tensions and MS becomes the bad guy.

So, from my perspective, until someone demonstrates that WGA or its successors do more than protect Microsoft from the use of illegal operating systems, I can find little wrong with the entire process. If they can turn the system off on the front end when the activation is clearly an illegal code, why not do so later on when the illegal software is discovered? Seems only proper to me.

Otherwise, haven't we changed all of the rules and let the bad guys, the really bad guys, win?

Jim A.


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