Is Windows Genuine Advantage Really Spyware – Feedback

And the feedback just keeps coming on the WGA issue…

Mic writes:
Here is the only issue I have with WGA: Once it checks my computer, then why does it have to send in reports more than once? It is either legit or it isn’t, right? I don’t change operating systems once a month, and I don’t know very many people that do.

>Mark writes:
In the “old” days you brought a computer and then separately brought the OS you wanted to put on it. If you buy a computer that has the OS already installed, as part of the purchase price, then when you sell it, the OS should stay. You buy a car with a computer in it with an OS. When you sell the car as used, the OS isn’t wiped – it goes with the car.

Below is a direct excerpt from Windows Secrets Newsletter Issue 78. I agree with it because everyone is trying to change the fair use policy to get more money out of use:

Let me emphasize that I’m dead set against the mass piracy of software or any other creative work. But Windows Genuine Advantage and Windows Product Activation, which WGA is meant to enforce, have nothing to do with stopping mass piracy.

As I reported in InfoWorld Magazine way back on Oct. 22 and Oct. 29, 2001, Microsoft deliberately designed Product Activation to be trivial for pirates to circumvent. Any fly-by-night business can copy a single file and sell thousands of machines that pass Product Activation (although the innocent buyers may have trouble validating months or years later).

The purpose of Product Activation has always been to prevent Mom and Dad from buying a Windows package, installing one copy on the parents’ PC and another on the kid’s PC. Frankly, copyright laws for hundreds of years have allowed buyers of copyrighted works to make a limited number of copies exclusively for themselves. If you bought a music album you liked, you could legally make a copy to play in your car. In the U.S., this is known as the “personal use exemption” of the copyright laws or, more generically, “fair use.”

Product Activation isn’t aimed at hard-core pirates. Instead, it’s part of a surprisingly powerful, coordinated effort to change the basic nature of copyright so people can’t make any personal copies whatsoever.

The fact that personal-use copies have traditionally been permitted under copyright laws is illustrated by, of all things, Microsoft Office. The Product Activation scheme in Office has always explicitly allowed the buyer to install copies on two different machines. Furthermore, Office Update – which uses a patch-download mechanism distinct from that of Windows Update – has never required Genuine Advantage prior to users downloading security patches for Word, Excel, and the like.

(Secret: Windows’ own flavor of Product Activation does allow anyone to install Windows XP on a different machine, which will then in most cases successfully validate, about once every six months. Microsoft almost never mentions this fact.)

By displaying warnings about piracy as often as once a day or even once an hour, Windows Genuine Advantage has no security benefit but was solely designed to sell more copies of XP to confused users. WGA was programmed so any actual pirates (and savvy Windows users) could turn off the nag screens with a few clicks – but novices would be unlikely to understand that.

Stopping the guys with the high-speed duplicators should be Microsoft’s top concern. Instead, the Redmond corporation inexplicably targets fair-use home installations. The marketers behind this presumably hope to increase gross revenue so Microsoft’s share price will get out of the doldrums. But most home users aren’t a ripe market to spend the kind of money Microsoft wants.

If the company devoted as much time developing innovative products as it does cooking up ways to prevent personal-use copies, its stock price wouldn’t be half of what it was six years ago.

Jeff writes:
I think that Microsoft has a right to be paid for every piece of software. I also believe that the ‘new’ WGA does something it shouldn’t: cost people money.

Specifically, the ones on the short end of the stick are people who are still stuck using dialup. WGA ‘calls home’ EVERY DAY. This could be a real problem if WGA locks up Windows because it can’t connect to a server on a daily basis.

Martin writes:
You know I am a Linux Taliban making a living fixing Windows PCs! So my life is a paradox!

For my personal use, I (of course) use Linux, nowadays Blag. I also enjoy Zenwalk, and I have Puppy Linux on my USB pen drive…

But I am confronted by the vast majority of users who want XP, either in my Internet cafe, or my PC repair customers…

Then, I am sure the WGA is some kind of policeware (spyware, maybe), but I don’t mind, because for me the Windows World is already like Babylon the Great. I have to use it for my job, I have to dual-boot my own PC and all my Internet-cafe PCs…

Windows can try spying on me, but it won’t be me in reality (“catch me if you can”). As for my customers, of course I run winupdate all the time.

It’s their choice to have XP. No one cares if “The Great Satan” is spying on them, I guess…

If you don’t feel confortable with it, if you are in a deep trip about conspiracy theories, I suggest using a live CD such as Dyne:Bolic 2.0 without a hard-drive, and saving your personal data on a USB pen drive. Having plenty of complicated passwords might sooth your mind as well!

Hasta luego!

Bruce writes:
No. We’re not being paranoid, and yes, it is important. Anything that is used to make a connection between my computer and something else on the Internet is something that can be abused. It doesn’t matter if it’s called WGA or Adobe update or Intuit trying to track my business. Someone will find a way to abuse it. Therefore, I insist on knowing and controlling each instance that occurs.

Thank you.

John writes:
I read your articles often and, most of the time, I am in full agreement. On the subject of WGA, the only part I don’t agree with is that it is a pain. Yes, it delays my startup a bit, but it also validates my machine. I pay McAfee extra dollars each year to have it also do a validation each time I start up and every time something passes through my Web hookup.

As far as the privacy issue goes, if you have something to hide, stay away from the Internet. There is probably more data out there on you (and me) than we have any idea even existed. Live clean and watch your own backside and you’ll survive a complete life duration on this earth.