CyberTech Rambler

July 5, 2006

WGA: Cost for users and Microsoft’s claims that users want it

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:59 am

Microsoft Windows Genuine (Dis)Advantage (WGA) is making its appearance on BBC News. BBC News focus on how it “confuses” users. There are some surprising tidbits there, such as claims that one’s modem dials out everytime one starts or reboot Windows Computer infected with WGA. This brought to my attention an interesting question: Since for a lot of users, connecting to the net can incurs a charge. The charge may be very small such as decreasing one’s download quota by a tiny fraction everytime but in a singificant number of cases, charges per connection (dial up charges, modem call charge) may not be insignificant.

Michala Alexandar, head of Microsoft UK anti-piracy says “Customers have been crying out for a tool which could tell them if they have been duped”. This daft arguement is the second amusing comment coming from the person with the “Please Don’t Sell Naked PC” fame. [Note: I normally do not like personal attack like this one. I am sure Ms Alexandar is simply repeating what she was told to say by the PR department. However, she did it twice now.]

I do not doubt people wants a  tool to prove that the software they paid for is genuine and the creator of the software, Microsoft or otherwise, is properly rewarded. If this is the aim, creating a website where users can volunteerily, and at their leisure, upload information about their computers for checking is surely sufficient. A automated tool, one that the user has to click and launch that will connect to Microsoft for checks is a good idea. If this is indeed the aim, validating the software once will be sufficient, at the time of first connection to the net. Checking at first update is probably too late because some time may have passed since the user purchase the computer.

Do we need a tool that calls home every two weeks and where this call home facility can be used to nuke your computer in the future? NO.

The problem is, this is only a side effect of Microsoft anti-piracy effort. The system I describe above, one that depends on users initiating contact with Microsoft, will only catch naive pirates. Worse, it only works once per pirate because of the “once bitten, twice shy” principle.

All the problematic feature of WGA, such as disguising itself as “Critical Updates”, “calling home” technology, “Naming and Shaming” are all aimed at catching and exposing pirates. Again, I have no problems with this as long as false positive are low and Microsoft takes steps to help customers wrongly caught up in this dragnet. However, information on the net suggests that the drones Microsoft employ to help (disadvantaged) geunine customers recertify their copy of Windows seems to be treating every request for help as pirate mascarading as distress users. [Tip to genuine users: The drones are programmed to listen to keywords such as ‘reinstalling’,’changed corrupted Hard Disk Drive’].

Thus, the claim that users finds advantage in WGA autentication is daft.

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