Microsoft to Change WGA in Vista SP1

Microsoft last night announced that it would make major changes to the way its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) anti-piracy technologies work in Windows Vista, beginning with the Service Pack 1 (SP1) update that is due in Q1 2008. Once that release ships, the Vista version of WGA will work more like its XP counterpart, removing the Reduced Functionality Mode (RFM) that has dogged thousands of legitimate Vista users this year.

"We're stepping up our investments in WGA in Vista going forward," Alex Kochis, a group product manager of Windows Genuine Advantage at Microsoft told me during a recent briefing. Kochis told me that Vista SP1 would disable common WGA exploits and provide non-activated users with a full Vista experience, albeit one that provides regular and annoying activation pop-ups.

The first of the two changes is aimed at various grace period hacks and the so-called OEM BIOS exploits, which attempt to bypass Vista's activation scheme and allow non-activated versions of the OS to operate normally, as if activation had occurred. These hacks are widely circulated on the Internet and Kochis says that they often lead to blue screen crashes and other instabilities.

The second should alleviate at least some of the complaints that have arisen in recent months, as legitimate Vista users have found their PCs running in RFM or a non-genuine state, which occurs when an activated Vista version fails an online validity test. Now, instead of reducing the functionality of Vista, WGA will move Vista into a state where hourly dialogs will pop-up, reminding users to activate. Additionally, the desktop background will be changed to a solid black color, and a balloon help window will appear near the system tray when this event occurs.

I'll have more information about these changes later today on the SuperSite for Windows. But Kochis told me that Microsoft will not be adding these features to SP1 in any of the upcoming prerelease builds. Instead, we'll need to wait until the final release to test this functionality.

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