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Microsoft Windows Genuine Advantage and upgrade to Windows Product Activation (WPA)?

This article from Arstechnica writer Ken Fisher quite rightly positions Microsoft's new Windows Genuine Advantage program as an upgrade to Windows product Activation.

The guts of the change are that it appears Microsoft has decided to implement phone home constant monitoring of the license state of your PC.... Basically Activation with automated checking at intervals set by Microsoft.

Two major problems seem to be floating to the surface as the story progresses:

  1. People are tagging the system as Spy ware and quite rightly since the user is never asked permission to contact Microsoft... the communication takes place in the background without the users consent which is by definition spy ware and ;
  2. The tolerance schema Microsoft is using seems to be constantly trigger false positives meaning that the software thinks it is on a new machine and is asking the user to re-activate in a wildly disproportionate rate of occurrence.

Both problems can be linked to what may be a intentional decision to tighten up Microsoft's license policy. If tolerance is set too tight then every little change in the hardware is assumed to be a new PC rather than someone doing a peripheral upgrade... and the new found demand to know if you are licensed or not at any given time of day or night also is a side product of a much more aggressive attitude to casual copying.

Interestingly from my perspective this is all directly linked to Microsoft's short length unlock codes... let me explain...

One of the best ways to get a free copy of Windows is to brute force the unlock code using over-the-phone activation. Basically this means someone sits with a script that tries every combination of unlock code until one works... viola! Then all you need is to distribute the Windows serial number and the unlock code and you have a free copy.

This works as long as the software never communicates with the server to check how many licenses are activated against the serial number... as soon as the server sees that the unlock code has been abused, the game is up... thus Microsoft's new phone home system!

We solved this problem some time ago at Uniloc when we invented cyclical unlock codes... by making the unlock codes for over-the-phone activation far more complicated without making it longer we avoided this spy ware nightmare and also limited the overhead of the continual communications that the new WGA system entails.

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