WinInfo Daily UPDATE: January 25, 2007

Touting Successes, Microsoft Also Admits WGA Mistakes

Touting Successes, Microsoft Also Admits WGA Mistakes

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Touting Successes, Microsoft Also Admits WGA Mistakes
by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

This week, Microsoft finally admitted what many of us have suspected for quite some time: Its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) antipiracy tool is faulty and has mistakenly identified hundreds of thousands of valid Windows installations as pirated. Meanwhile, more than 22 percent of all Windows installations that have gone through the WGA validation process have been correctly identified as pirated, making the program a huge success--at least from Microsoft's perspective.

According to Microsoft, of the more than 512 million users who have attempted to validate their systems via WGA, 114 million installations (22.3 percent) were judged invalid, or pirated. Microsoft told "InformationWeek" that this figure is quite a bit lower than the overall global software piracy rate, however, which is estimated to be 35 percent of all software used worldwide.

Of the 114 million invalid Windows installations flagged by Microsoft, 56,000 users filed a counterfeit report in order to obtain a legitimate Windows copy from Microsoft. This very low response rate is explained by the fact that the counterfeit reports require users to identify the system builder or other party who provided them with the suspected pirated copy of Windows.

Although Microsoft hasn't released the exact number of Windows installations that were mistakenly identified as pirated, David Lazar, the director of WGA at Microsoft, said it is less than "one-half of one percent" of the systems WGA has verified. That means Microsoft might have already accused several hundred thousand legitimate Windows users of piracy, forcing those users to undergo the painful process of discovering what went wrong and convincing WGA to certify their installations. Microsoft said that in most cases, the company can determine what went wrong and fix the problem. However, the burden is on the user, and that underscores the reasons for the criticism Microsoft has received since launching the WGA program.

Next week, of course, Microsoft will formally launch Windows Vista to consumers. As you might expect, this next version of the OS comes with an enhanced version of WGA. In Vista, systems that are suspected of being pirated will run in a reduced functionality mode so that users can copy data off the PC and perform other related tasks. However, none of the built-in Vista applications except for Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0 will work normally in this mode.

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