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• October 29, 2004 •

Microsoft Expands "Windows Genuine Advantage" Program

Last month Microsoft launched a pilot program called the "Windows Genuine Advantage" Program (read my article about it). According to Microsoft, they were hoping that some 20,000 customers would opt-in to use the program, which basically is a check to see if your copy of Windows XP is genuine.

This week Microsoft announced that as of October 17th, well over 825,000 users have opted-in to the program. Now Microsoft is expanding the opt-in program to include Simplified Chinese (PRC, Singapore), Traditional Chinese (Hong Kong), Norwegian and Czech language versions, in addition to English. And to help differentiate the value of genuine Windows from counterfeit versions, Microsoft will make a variety of special software offerings available exclusively to customers who validate as genuine. These offerings include:

Last month, I wrote an article about Microsoft's trial with a new validation proccess. This month I had a chance to put some questions to David Lazar, director of Microsoft's Windows client product management group who is directly responsible for the "Windows Genuine Advantage" (WGA) program.

First I asked David what Microsoft wants to achieve with the license check that is at the core of the "Windows Genuine Advantage" program.

David: "The opt-in pilot for Windows Genuine Advantage is designed to learn more about delivering genuine software to Microsoft customers, combating counterfeit software, and enhancing the value of genuine Windows by differentiating it from counterfeit software. Our research shows that customers want to learn whether or not they have received the software products they have paid for. Our data shows that 23% of Windows users in the US are using non-genuine Windows software, and this number is higher in many countries. It's not fair that this group should be receiving the same benefits as paying customers. Also, many piracy transactions fit the category of counterfeiting, where the seller receives 80-100% of the full price of Windows, and doesn't convey a valid license. This is fraud being perpetrated on users, and we should do everything we can to stop it."

I also asked David why we would be asked to validate our software, even if we are running an activated copy of Windows XP.

David: "It is important to note that customers who have already activated do not need to re-enter their product keys. The activation is automatically detected and respected. For retail activated machines the user proceeds directly to the desired download. Only for Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) System Locked Pre-installation (SLP) machines that have never been activated does the user enter their Certificate of Authenticity (COA) key. OEM machines have not been "activated" as far as their product key being entered, so the normal WGA process is for the COA key to be entered at that time. This is a one-time process after which that system is validated as genuine."

The final question I put to David was that if this process would become mandatory to get downloads from Microsoft (right now it is still a pilot program, and can be opted out from), wouldn't this mean that users who are running illegal (counterfeited or otherwise illegal) copies of Windows can no longer get security updates for their system, and wouldn't that make all the recent efforts on Microsoft's part on securing Windows XP be worthless?

David: "We need to be very clear on this point: All users - genuine or not -- are able to receive critical security updates including Windows XP SP2 by enabling the Automatic Updates feature in Windows XP. Also keep in mind that the program is opt-in and only applies to the Download Center, not Windows Update or Automatic Update."

It is fair to point out that at this point the "Windows Genuine Advantage" program is still a pilot program, so changes are being made to it, and (as far as I know) no decision has been made if it will be mandatory in the future. It does seem clear that WGA will only apply to certain downloads ("extra's"), and will never be required to be able to download security updates, which is a good thing.

If you want to try to validate without first finding a download, you can go to the Microsoft How to Tell Web site, and initiate a validation.

If you want to provide feedback, you can do so by using the feedback link below, or by using the Microsoft Download Center Web Site Feedback.

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