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Microsoft Windows' "Genuine Advantage"

03/15/07 | by Adam | Categories: Copyright

Link: http://agonist.org/ian_welsh/20070314/the_end_of_the_information_commons

As some wag said recently: "Whose advantage?"

While reading an article on DRM by Ian Welsh over at "The Agonist", a paragraph grabbed my attention:

22% of those who tried to validate their MS Windows installation under Microsoft's 'genuine advantage' programme turned out to be running pirate versions - 115 million users. And that's only out of the users who tried to get validation.

The reason this has particular interest to me is due to the XP installation on my MacBook. When I first bought the copy of XP and the MacBook, Parallels wasn't available so I installed it under Boot Camp, the Apple Windows environment. It worked fine so I didn't think much about it. At a later date, Parallels was released and was better for my needs so reinstalled XP on it. When the "Genuine Advantage" cropped up as part of the activation process, XP refused to proceed on the grounds that I wasn't running a legitimate copy of the program. Why wasn't it legitimate? Well, that's because it was already activated on different hardware. From the Microsoft activation logs, I'm now a pirate for trying to use an already in-use version of Windows. There's no context from their end that generates the numbers Ian quotes, just a simple black and white.

To their credit Microsoft does realise there's an issue. If you phone up their support line and tell Microsoft that you've retired the old hardware and you're installing on a new box, they will issue a new activation code and let you proceed. And they did.

The requirement here bothers me. I have paid for a full version of XP; I am running it on only one physical computer. I have not given it away; I am not running it simultaneously across multiple installs. Yet I am in the wrong and have to beg Microsoft to left me use the software. This cannot be right. And it's going to get worse as noted in an earlier post as even more ways of using the software are blocked off.

Microsoft is a big company. There's a very big chance they'll be around in five years. They're also a strong influence in the way software works so it won't be just them doing this sort of thing. Take for example how things work on the Macintosh. Right now almost all shareware applications have an activation tool which requires that you be online when you enter the paid-for passcode. I've not done my research here but the impression I get is that they use a standard activation process to enable the full version of the code. These operations are small, most are two-three person operations at best. Do I reckon many of them will be around and supporting their tools in four years? To be honest, no. They'll get bored, be hired to work on something else, go broke or something else. When that happens there's a very good chance their activation server will go with them leaving me with paid for software that can no longer be used should I ever need to reinstall. This isn't quite buying a pig-in-a-poke, but it's getting very close indeed.

The old argument about shareware was that you buy what you see and don't expect to get any further updates. Fair enough but this is now heading down the path where you will actually lose even that. Going back to the early days of blog's history, I had a complaint with an application called WorldMate where the developer unilaterally disabled the program when he decided that it was time for me to pay more money.

To get back to the original issue: I pay for my software. I don't give it away. For my pains, I'm treated like a potential pirate. I'm restricted in what I can use the software for and on. To top it off, the vendor has the ability to take away my ability to use the software at any point for any reason. Where's the advantage to me?

 

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