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Monday, 11 May 2009 07:36

WAT's happening to Windows 7

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Microsoft has announced that Windows Activation Technologies (WAT) will be replacing the rather unpopular Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) for activation and validation in Windows 7.

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Late last week  Joe Williams, general manager of the Worldwide Genuine Windows operation at Microsoft, said that Windows 7 will deploy new ways to protect consumers from software piracy and ensure that Microsoft’s intellectual property rights are respected.

Fair enough, too. I'm prepared to pay for my own copy of Windows, or any other commercially-licensed software, and don't feel that others should be able to obtain and use a pirated copy.

I have no beef at all with the concept of free software, but -- especially being an author of commercial software myself -- don't think it's right for commercial licenses to be dishonoured. If you want free software, there's plenty of excellent stuff to choose from (Linux and all the rest).

Pirated software is a violation of intellectual property and can cost the developers dearly, poses a security threat for users (loss of privacy and/or valuable data, not to mention money), and carries with it no vendor support (such as help desk, bug fixes or upgrades). Much has been written about this so I won't delve into it, but even as late as last week there were reports of illegal downloads of the new Windows 7 Release Candidate containing malware.

With the largest installed base, Microsoft is by far the biggest target, and has been at the forefront of the battle against piracy. They think that on a worldwide basis as much as one-quarter to one-third of Windows copies are counterfeit, and that a significant percentage of these people do not know the software they are using was pirated.

Their WGA program (Windows Genuine Advantage) has been operating for a number of years. I've never myself had any difficulties at all with the way that WGA works, but some people have. Even if it's only a small percentage of Windows users, that adds up to a huge number of cases.

The worst affected were those people for whom WGA erroneously flagged their valid copy of Windows XP or Vista as being non-genuine, some half a million or so according to an admission by Microsoft in early 2007. A change  to WGA in late 2007 seems to have fixed this aberration.

Williams said: "The Windows 7 activation experience is based on that of Windows Vista SP1 and should appear familiar to users of Windows Vista SP1. This includes the notifications that alert customers if they need to activate their copy of Windows and helps them with issues that may occur -- including the possibility that they might be a victim of software piracy."

"We heard feedback from customers that while the notifications that appeared in Windows Vista were effective at helping alert customers, there might be more we could do and say that would be helpful."

"So for Windows 7 our goal was to do a better job of helping customers make decisions with confidence about which action to take. In Windows 7, we're being more descriptive about what Windows is actually doing and providing more information about what, if any, actions the user should take as a result" he continued.

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But it's not all about consumer users of Windows. "We also heard from enterprise customers that there were some scenarios where our activation tools could be improved, to help ease the burden on IT departments" said Microsoft's Joe Williams.

"So we've added to some of the existing tools for IT professionals and made them easier to access to better support those who need to manage Windows activations at an organizational level."

"One example is the new support for activation in virtualization scenarios where KMS now counts virtual clients. [KMS stands for the Key Management Services tool for volume licensing and product activation.] This is important for customers who have fully virtualized environments or customers who have dev/test environments where virtual clients are used heavily."

"Microsoft has focused its anti-piracy efforts on protecting customers and partners from the evolving risks of counterfeit software and increasingly sophisticated piracy scams," he went on.

"Every day, more than one million users activate and validate their PCs to make sure they’re running genuine Windows software, and Microsoft has made significant investments in customer education and engineering efforts to make this process simple, easy and reliable. For customers who do discover they are piracy victims, Microsoft has made a range of options available to them, including buying online or through retail, often at special pricing or even at no cost."

Microsoft thought that they could improve upon the WGA mechanism in Windows 7.

"For example, with Windows Vista Service Pack 1, if a PC was not activated during the login process, customers would periodically see a dialog box as a visual reminder they still needed to activate their copy of Windows. Within this prompt, they could choose to activate immediately or later. "

"But the option to push the 'Activate Later' button was greyed out for 15 seconds. Customers told us that while the prompt grabbed their attention, they didn’t understand why they needed to activate immediately and that the delay was annoying."

So, he continued, "In Windows 7 we modified this process: When customers choose to activate later they will see a dialog box highlighting how activation helps them identify if their copy of Windows is genuine and be allowed to proceed immediately without a 15-second delay. In Windows 7 we’ve made changes so that users will see more informative notifications messages and be able to more easily complete the tasks they need to."

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Tony Austin

Worked at IBM from 1970, for a quarter century, then founded Asia/Pacific Computer Services to provide IT consulting and software development services (closed company at end of 2013). These says am still involved with IT as an observer and commentator, as well as attempting to understand cosmology, quantum mechanics and whatever else will keep my mind active and fend off deterioration of my grey matter.

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