WGA no longer phoning home every day

User complaints force Microsoft to update its WGA anti-piracy program

Responding to pressure from irked Windows users, Microsoft has released an updated version of its anti-piracy program that changes the frequency with which the program checks for pirated or counterfeit copies of its client operating system.

The new version of Microsoft’s Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) Notifications program no longer checks the server-side configuration of a user’s version of Windows every time the user logs on (to see if it is a valid copy of Windows). Instead, it checks periodically to see if the user’s copy is genuine.

“Our customers have told us that they were disappointed with their WGA Notifications experience and we have made an effort to improve that with this update,” the company says in a written statement.

The pilot phase of WGA Notifications has also come to an end, which means that the program will, eventually, run on all versions of Windows XP worldwide that use Microsoft’s Automatic Updates system.

The program is currently in a phased rollout, beginning with all English, Spanish, Brazilian, Portuguese, French and German, Italian and Dutch versions of Windows XP. Microsoft will shortly offer these users the updated WGA Notifications through Automatic Updates.

Microsoft has mounted an aggressive programme to eliminate counterfeit and pirated versions of Windows, and WGA is a part of this initiative. The program was first distributed not as an automatic update but to those using Microsoft’s download services as they wanted to install add-on software, excluding security releases, for Windows.

Microsoft later updated it with the WGA Notifications program, distributed as part of Microsoft’s Automatic Updates, which reminds users their copy of Windows is not genuine. It also informs them of what Microsoft calls the “benefits” of using authentic Windows software.

Users can opt out of WGA Notifications, but not the WGA program in general if they want to use Microsoft’s download services. With the new release of WGA Notifications, Microsoft is including instructions for removing an older version of the program from any PC. These can be found at Microsoft’s website, the company says.

Since WGA’s release last year, users have complained of bugs in the program identifying legitimate copies of Windows as counterfeit. A privacy advocate accused WGA Notifications of acting like spyware, since it sends information about a user’s PC back to Microsoft automatically, without letting the user know exactly what information is being sent.

Upgrading the program, so it does not contact Microsoft every time a user logs in, should help remedy this latter problem. The new version of WGA Notifications also includes a more comprehensive licence that clearly explains the purpose of the software and includes details about the program, Microsoft says.

One Windows user, Steve Smith, says he has installed the new version of WGA Notifications without encountering any problems. Smith owns PC Manager, an independent PC reseller in California. He says the change makes it easier for resellers to work with new clients, who may have illegal copies of Windows running internally and worry that trying to fix the problem could temporarily cripple them.

The new WGA policy allows “customers to get their software licences in order and not run the risk of being shut down immediately,” Smith says.

Paul DeGroot, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, says for most consumers using legal copies of Windows XP, WGA “wasn’t much of an issue”.

The bigger problem is one of perception, especially after the spyware accusation, he says.

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