Windows 7 Phones Home to ID New Piracy Tactics
Microsoft has announced that an update will soon be released that will change the behavior of WAT (Windows Activation Technologies) in Windows 7. WAT determines whether a copy of Windows is, as Microsoft puts it, “genuine” (they used to call this Windows Genuine Advantage).
After the update is installed, WAT will check with Microsoft every 90 days for information on new activation hacks that Microsoft may have found. Therefore, if you buy a computer with a pirated copy of Windows (or hack activation yourself) and it’s not found at first, it may be found later.
If a system is found to be non-genuine it will display dialog boxes informing the user of the situation and giving them information on how they can get genuine. The desktop wallpaper will turn blank with a watermark reminding the user of the problem, and the dialog boxes will reappear periodically. The only updates they will be able to install are important security updates. Microsoft stresses that no user functionality will be lost.
The activation problem from Microsoft’s standpoint doesn’t come from individuals hacking their own copies of Windows to avoid buying a license. It comes from unscrupulous OEMs, mail-order and storefront computer shops I imagine, that sell Windows systems with hacked versions so that *they* don’t have to buy a license. In these cases, the consumer is usually unaware that they are buying pirated software (or maybe they just don’t want to know). If you’re actually curious about the genuiness of your Windows copy, go to Microsoft’s “How to Tell” site.
But this new approach raises the possibility that users won’t find out they have a problem until some time after they have been using their computer. Is this unfair to the consumer? Yes, but it’s not Microsoft being unfair, it’s the OEM. For consumers in this position Microsoft is happy to sell them a real license.
There has been some negative reaction to this move by Microsoft, such as this one by Lauren Weinstein. Weinstein is concerned about false positives, but in the main she argues that the fact that Microsoft is even checking such things on old customers is an offensive intrusion on privacy. Personally, I don’t understand her concern. I don’t feel violated at all by the check.
The update will be made available today, February 16, at http://www.microsoft.com/genuine for Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise. Tomorrow it will be available at the Microsoft Download Center, and later in the month it will be available as an “Important” update on Windows Update. As an Important update, most users will, per the default settings, download and install it automatically. But it is not mandatory, you can opt-out, and as long as you haven’t been busted by it yet, you can uninstall it.
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