Microsoft Validates Windows Experience

Microsoft announced last week that by mid-2005, users of Windows XP will be required to validate the authenticity of their operating licenses in order to be able to download updates and various applications Microsoft is using as an incentive to validate. This effort is part of an initiative Microsoft has dubbed “Windows Genuine Advantage”.

Among the carrots Microsoft is dangling to get users to validate is an offer of free software including Photo Story 3 for Windows and Winter Fun Pack 2004, as well discounted access to services such as MSN Games and web hosting. Microsoft values this carrot at more than $450.

The Windows Genuine Advantage initiative and the associated validation mechanism have been available under a pilot program since September 2004 via the Microsoft Downloads site. In early February Microsoft will expand the pilot program to include 20 language versions of Windows XP and even more software on the Microsoft Download site. Users of Czech, Simplified Chinese, and Norwegian versions of Windows will be required to participate in the pilot program, whereas for everyone else it will be optional until mid-year.

The validation process requires the permanent installation of an ActiveX program and the use of Internet Explorer 6 or later. The increasingly popular but decidedly non-Microsoft Firefox web browser cannot be used for this purpose.

One of the early misperceptions of this new validation program is that it could result in a vast host of Windows XP systems which suffer from massive security holes because they cannot be updated due to lack of proper validation. To counter this concern, Microsoft has indicated that it will continue to provide Automatic Updates without requiring validation – users will however not be able to manually use the Windows Update function in the operating system without validation. This means that access to security updates on non-validated systems will be limited to whatever update schedule the user’s system is configured with. So, the feared unsecured systems will still exist, but theoretically only for a short period of time after a security alert has been issued.

The major advantages Microsoft cites of the Windows Genuine Advantage program greater reliability, faster access to updates, and an overall richer user experience. In particular, Microsoft claims that their program will help protect millions of Windows users from an inferior computing experience, viruses and other vulnerabilities that can result from counterfeit software.

There is some question, and perhaps irony, in Microsoft touting an inferior computing experience for only users of counterfeit software, as the implication is that merely by running legal software you will enjoy a great computing experience.

In working with a variety of end users and their systems, I frequently find that users have not run Windows Update on their systems in some time and ignore Automatic Update requests for any of a variety of reasons. These reasons include fear of any new software whatsoever, whether they be patches or otherwise; distrust of Microsoft after installing things like SP2 and having ones system crash; and of course there is just general apathy, which abounds among computer users everywhere. With Microsoft soon requiring users to perform extra steps to update their systems, such apathy and resistance to updates among a portion of the user base is sure to get even greater, whether or not their software is legal or counterfeit.

While I cannot begrudge Microsoft for wanting to cut down on piracy of their products, this new program has several notable flaws and drawbacks for the very users Microsoft says they want to protect.

First, it is prone to serious problems – in my tests of the pilot program I first found that Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) blocked the attempt to install the validation code. When I then tried to install the validation program I received a pop-up notice that the validation was not able to run on my system because of my Internet settings or my lack of administrative rights. All my other Internet-enabled software runs fine, and I am the administrator. And, I will modestly state I have an above average understanding of Windows and PC configuration (not that it helped in this case). What is the typical Windows user going to think when they can’t validate their systems? Lots of computer sales businesses will be inundated with support phone calls about why the legal version of Windows XP they were sold with their system won’t validate.

Second, the Windows operating system is inherently prone to problems like security holes, and Microsoft applications and software such as Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and Office and only make the problem worse. Having to perpetually patch and update Windows and Microsoft programs because of security holes is both frustrating and rather scary – what about the many holes they haven’t found yet, or know about but don’t know how to patch? And when it comes to updating applications such as Office, you are stuck with the annoyance of having to have your original installation media on hand – a real challenge when traveling with your notebook computer and not having any of those CDs on hand. Or, as in Kathleen’s case, you don’t even have a CD-ROM drive built into your notebook computer.

Finally, those of us who are aware of all the potential security problems with Windows and its resident security and infection prone components, use safer alternatives, like Eudora or Thunderbird for e-mail and Firefox for web browsing, and perhaps even OpenOffice in lieu of Microsoft Office. But as part of the Genuine Windows Advantage program Microsoft is also subtly pushing their new but unpublicized Genuine Microsoft Software program, claiming such software “offers you greater reliability, faster access to support, and an overall richer experience”. I personally prefer not to have my computing experiences enriched with virus, spy ware, and other gems which Internet Explorer quietly deposits in my computer. But, in a Genuine Microsoft Software world, there may ultimately be no room for alternatives.


One Response to “Microsoft Validates Windows Experience”

  1. Frank Johnson says:

    Good Service