Is Microsoft Blocking Illegal Software?

Yes, said slightly panicky messages I got earlier this week from a few Chinese internet users. Some claimed “This is going to kill millions of PCs in China,” but so far the potential risk to pirate Windows users is unclear.


At issue is a piece of Microsoft software that installs with the Windows operating system called Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) that determines whether a computer is running a pirated copy of Windows. In a June 7 AP story, Microsoft’s WGA director David Lazar explained that WGA quietly checks in daily with Microsoft — an activity that until now Microsoft hasn’t disclosed widely.


Lazar noted that Microsoft should have communicated about this activity more clearly with Windows users.


According to Lazar, when WGA indicates a copy of Windows is pirated, the user begins to get periodic reminders that the copy isn’t genuine. These users also can’t download noncritical updates. However, anyone (ostensibly including pirate users) who has registered to receive critical security updates will still get those automatically.


Still, some accounts from China claim that WGA’s check-in process might lead to the disabling of some computers.


“We have two PCs affected in our office so far,” wrote Matsch from Shanghai, in a comment to this China Herald item. “While the first one only tells us that the copy of Windows XP is not genuine and prevents us from getting updates online, the second one was not able to login without activation (even not in Safe Mode)… So a reinstall on this PC was the only choice (despite buying a license). I don’t know if we can use the online update with our ‘counterfeited’ software.”


It looks like this topic warrants further investigation. A couple of places to follow developments and the online conversation are Technorati and Slashdot.


(Amy Gahran also contributed to this story.)

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