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Windows Snapping Shut

You made me write this morning's column. Maybe not you in person, but you The Readers, who have sent in some disturbing e-mails, Web-chat posts and blog comments about being held up by their own legally purchased copy of Windows.

Things didn't seem too bad with Microsoft's first anti-piracy effort, Windows XP's activation system. It was a one-time measure, and Microsoft offered an easy way out--if you called to say that your copy of XP was incorrectly refusing to activate because you'd replaced some of your PC's components, the company would have to take you at your word.

Activation seemed no different from most digital-rights-management systems--intended to keep honest customers honest. It only stopped people who weren't good at piracy in the first place.

But when Microsoft began pushing its "Windows Genuine Advantage Notifications" validation tool in XP's automatic-update system, I started to change my mind. (This Microsoft technical note goes into detail about how validation works.) Readers also sent in numerous complaints about validation gone wrong; for instance, you can see two such complaints in this chat transcript.

Then came Windows Vista. Microsoft once pledged that it would not disable people's computers for running illegitimate software, but Vista is designed to shut off parts of itself if necessary. I ran into its "Reduced Functionality" mode when trying out a Gateway laptop, and then heard from people whose copies of Vista had turned against them. For example, look for the comment from "gr8rdane" on my blog post.

Microsoft's own developers have noted these problems on their blogs. This posting, for example, cites Vista validation failures after installations of "nProtect GameGuard, Trend Micro Internet Security, PC-Cillin Anti-Virus and PC Tools Spyware Doctor." That's a hell of an autoimmune response from Vista.

As I wrote, these are rare instances. But they should not be an acceptable kind of failure.

Now, think of all the effort sunk into developing this anti-piracy software. Not even Microsoft has an infinite supply of programmers. Those developers could have instead worked to protect Vista against viruses or increase its speed--you know, features that customers actually want?

One other note: Towards the end of the column, I briefly mentioned one way to get a break on a second copy of Vista, the "Additional License" program. Details on it are here. Microsoft also offers a "Family Discount," but it requires that you buy a copy of Vista's Ultimate Edition first and saves even less money in a two-computer scenario. Avoid it unless you need to install Vista on three computers. (A vendor of a competing operating system offers a different deal--$199 buys a "Family Pack" that can be installed on five computers. I'm just sayin...)

Also, I'll be doing an online chat today at 2 pm ET, so please tune in.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 5, 2007; 10:06 AM ET
Categories:  Windows  
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Had to replace an old XP based computer and bought a new Vista equipped Dell desktop. Generally happy with the interface (and the speed of the new computer), but the inability to import programs through the Easy Transfer cable is a drag. When I tried to install the Beta version of Easy Transfer companion, I was told that I was running multiple operating systems and the download shut down. What's that about?

Also, I can't believe that Microsoft's own MSN virus guard (supplied by McAfee) is not compatible with Vista.

Posted by: Scott | April 5, 2007 10:26 AM | Report abuse

I honestly believe that all these extra measures Microsoft is taking will do nothing more then slow down the efforts of piracy masters and hackers.

When Microsoft first released Windows XP I seen an illegal copy running within a few hours of the release; with the Genuine Advantage Tool it took but a few days and a few lines of JavaScript to disable the thing. Now we move on to the new Vista serries, and already one of the most popular torrent downloads is Vista Ultimate.

What piracy breaks down to is honestly price. There are tons of people who will have no choice but to pay 200 bucks for the new Microsoft OS; however, there are many people who refuse to pay such a heafty price for a few new bells and whistles. Sure there are people who wouldn't buy it if it were only 5 bucks and avaliable at any gas station, Walmart, or book store accross the globe, but most of thsoe people pirate software for no other reason the excitment of doing so. Many of the downloaders and such wouldn't even be looking for an illegal alternative if the price was fair.

I've given up on software piracy, I don't need to worry about jail time over a few hundred bucks worth of software, but there are still quite a few people who disagree with me.

It goes to show you that if you build a better program, the world will build a better hacker. Ultimatly you make more money if you earn $5 proffit off of one million sales versus making $100 off of one thousand sales.

Posted by: Tom | April 5, 2007 11:48 AM | Report abuse

This might be construed as off topic, but I found out the hard way last week that both Comcast and Vonage refuse to assist users who experience problems connecting from a Vista PC.

Just another reason why an upgrade or new PC purchase with Vista involved becomes less and less appealing...

Posted by: Jimbo | April 5, 2007 12:00 PM | Report abuse

V.i.s.t.a. - very inconvenient system to administrate

Posted by: Latte | April 5, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I think we may be seeing a transition point with the Microsoft monopoly finally. The big appeal with Windows or Vista is a world-wide standard OS (kind of like cars built with the accelerator, brake, and steering wheel in standard position; it makes driving any car relatively easy). Nobody should have a patent on a standard. But trying to keep a lock on computer operating systems will eventually lose out; the only thing stopping it now is Microsoft keeping their code secret and the US government so far not nailing them on what is obviously a monopoly.

Eventually something else is going to develop. I won't be surprised if it doesn't start with a depression on new computer purchases, since I was just thinking about getting a new one, but the hassles of all the anti-piracy rules and increasing inacessibility with the Vista system makes it a lot less appealing to me now. I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking that way.

Might as well get a Mac--remember how originally the Mac was a better machine, but hardly anyone wrote applications for it, so most of had to put up with the inferior Windows system? Watch out, Microsoft!

Posted by: Dave | April 5, 2007 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Oh, you have 5 Macs lying around that don't already have an OS on them?

Posted by: Wayne B | April 5, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Actually the funny part is, you don't even need a family pack to load OSX on a Mac, all you need is one disk. ( and as Wayne B put it, that's only if you have 5 Macs lying around that don't have an OS on them, LOL). But seriously, one disk is all you need for any amount of Macs, believe me I have used one disk on mine ow, my cousins, and my brothers without any problems!

Posted by: Joe | April 5, 2007 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Their Genuine Advantage Program is really bad. I got the oem version of windows xp home when I bought my pc a few years ago. Thanks to the clunky way that windows puts god knows what on your hard drive all the time. You are essentially left with no choice but to format your hard drive and re-install windows again. But the second time you try to do it, it just does not accept your activation key anymore. Finally when you do call and get through to Microsoft who don't really want to help you to begin with, they refuse to give you a key that would work.
Finally when you do get the key from them after escalating the call to the supervisors and managers,
the Genuine Advantage Program does not accept the key anymore so you can't get any updates. And really you can't do without their updates simply because their OS has so many holes and security vulnerabilities.

Bottom line Microsoft is so paranoid about piracy that they are shutting out honest customers too.

I am going with Linux!

Posted by: XPUser | April 5, 2007 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Darwinism is dead. And I don't mean that along religious conotations. What I mean is that people who post such as this..

"The people posting in this blog should get up out off there seats and thank the Microsoft gods for Vista..."
by JDJR on Feb 28, 2007

surely would have been eaten by wild dogs in a previous age...

Posted by: Jim B. | April 5, 2007 2:10 PM | Report abuse

I would not use Vista if someone paid me to. Even on my old computer running XP (unfortunately), which could run vista quite easily, I never download the Winblows Genuine Advantage thing because it is a waste of HD space and code in general. I am now and forever will be a mac user.

Posted by: Bob Smith | April 5, 2007 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I see Bill Gates getting locked out of his PC any time now!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 5, 2007 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Lame-Os, the whole lot of ya.

Posted by: Feces | April 5, 2007 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I have personally called microsoft at least 25 times for a reactivation of some sort - XP, office, etc and never had to wait for more than 5 minutes to speak to someone and they have always helped me immediately. I don't particularly care for microsoft, but a reactivation is not what I would consider a big ordeal to go through.

Posted by: josh | April 5, 2007 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Dell is finally going to start offering windows or Linux on a select number of its products shortly. Hopefully this will be a small step in the right direction. I think its ridiculous to be forced into buying windows pre-installed on a new pc when the first thing I do is wipe the disk and throw on linux. The consumer should have a choice, not M$ dictating your choice.

Posted by: Some Guy | April 5, 2007 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Gee... Is there not something that says it is the governments job to break up monopolies, to insure smaller third-party companies are not shut out of a field? I might be wrong, but is it not called the LAW? Boy, some politician must be getting big bucks from Bill Gates to enable that lousy company to stay afloat. Don't get me wrong - I love the work the Gates Foundation is doing. But it would tickle me pink if Microsoft went bankrupt like any other company selling piece of junk software!

Yo from Indiana!

Posted by: Adrian Cobon | April 5, 2007 10:37 PM | Report abuse

How would you like to get windows working for free, not only free but secure from the ground up, free patches no geunuine advantage you can load it on as many computers as you want without fear of revocation and in fact are encouraged to share it with whomever you want. All your software is approved without reduce functionality.

This dream scenerio is not ready yet but it is getting closer all the time.

ReactOS, Windows clone, open source, people who care about what they make not because they are being paid to do it but because they want what windows should have been.

Posted by: Bob Mason | April 6, 2007 2:47 AM | Report abuse

No, Adrian, there is no law against having a monopoly (think: if there were, that would make it illegal to create a new product or service!). In any case, Microsoft isn't a monopoly; there are lots of other OS suppliers.

What is illegal is using a strong market position to interfere with other companies' efforts to sell their products (e.g., by bundling your products solely to shut them out), a crime for which Microsoft has successfully been prosecuted in the past.

Posted by: FredH | April 6, 2007 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the clarification, FredH. I wasn't looking at it that way.

The problem with Reactos is that there is not enough backing to push it far enough along. I have been monitoring the project for a while now and its progress has been impeded by lack of community support. I mean, a free alternative the Microsoft Windows that is compatible with a most software on the market should have been taken up at once by the OEM companies, like Dell, who are running a lean operation to begin with. Wouldn't this have helped them slightly increase their profit margins?

Posted by: Adrian Cobon | April 6, 2007 1:44 PM | Report abuse


Come on, Microsoft has been for atleast 10 years trying to change the UCITA provisions for interstate commerce (Formerly called Article 2B) that was rejected by nearly everyone in the industry. For this effort, Microsoft has put together he largest Lobby group in the annals of Congressional history. I won't go into the details, but google Article 2B and/or, UCITA and you will see what I mean.

The short of it is that Microsoft needs to the change the current laws in order to make P2P communications legal without the user's permission.

But the industry rejection did not stop Microsoft. In the name of "security", they slowly began to add small pieces in this direction. First with Windows AutoUpdate - an automatic P2P process by default. They measure and waited for the market short attention time span complaints, and moved to the next step with Windows XP Activation. Measure the market reaction, then move to the next step with the Genuine, finally the next step is LIVE or .NET.

In the end, the goal is to have complete 100% rights to have P2P communications with MS centralized computers to monitor licensing and also establish a new framework for what we are calling "services" or what we use to call in the order "Centralized Computing" days - Time Sharing where the new business framework is charging for USAGE. In order to make this golden industry that major players are getting ready for, such as CISCO with their routers, they need to get the current laws changed, the primary one is to gain the same right the Banking Industry has with Car Reposession - the ability to go into a person's property or home and remove a licensed product for lack of payment or in the case of software, theif.

Microsoft has been circumventing the US interstate commerce laws slowly but surely.

Don't believe me? Google ARTICLE 2B and/or UCITA.

Posted by: Hector | April 6, 2007 10:14 PM | Report abuse

Yet one more reason to not an OS from Microshaft. Five years or research and development have released yet another faulty operating system. Buy a Mac! I switched over to one and am loving it! Never go back to a PC now. To complicated and to many problems. They just aren't secure. Have had the Mac for a little over a year now and not one virus/malware/etc... NOTHING. No its not that "there are less of them so they aren't attacked", its just the fact that Apple procudes a much better product than Microshaft could even dream of doing!

On a side note... they are copying Apple AGAIN and now want to sell DRM-free music. Come guys we at least try to come up with at least one original idea.

Posted by: Jay | April 6, 2007 10:24 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it wrong for MS to do what it can to protect itself against piracy, I believe anyone and any business has that right. I also believe that once a new method of detecting piracy has validated a system as being "genuine" then there is no need for continued validation every time updates are required, particularly when a previous validation somehow gets hosed because an update somehow goes wrong. I know of several Dell computers that came with XP already installed but somewhere along the upgrade path the validation tool deemed them as not being genuine and that's how they sit with the business unwilling to purchase again what they already paid for, unable to get restoration CD's from Dell anymore even with proof of purchase, and thus those machines are unable to get updates. What a rip off of the consumer. You pay for what you don't get.

But there is something more important that has increasingly bothered me, which is that the "useful life" free technical support from MS for every single version of Windows effectively ends and further protection via upgrades against malware comes to an end before the operating system version is sufficiently patched to do what it was supposed to do when it was first purchased. The owner is then denied or must pay for a length of time for technical support that WOULD have been usable had the device been operating all along and correctly to begin with! This, I think, is the biggest rip off of the consumer above all other rip offs. You pay for what you don't get.

Posted by: Ron near Los Angeles | April 6, 2007 11:11 PM | Report abuse

If some manufacturer made a car like Vista (They did, Edsel, Corvair, Pinto) The model wouldn't last long. Why do all the internet blogs like this one have page after page of people buying this MS junk like Vista and in the past XP and ME. Self punishment?
Wake up and don't buy this garbage. Buy Mac, Linux, anything but MS. All you favorite applications will be ported to what you use. About 30 days with no Vista sales will create the solution to the application problems in very short order. In the past we had a program compiler that would compile binaries for different operating systems from the same code until Gates and crew bought it out and deep sixed it. Such solutions will come back just as soon as you turn your money over to some one besides Microsoft, the convicted monopolist. The changeover will be a little rough but smooth sailing is just around the horn. You are all giving your lunch money to the school yard bully and are getting nothing for it.

Posted by: Dick Kolklazor | April 7, 2007 1:17 AM | Report abuse

DC dumbasses

Posted by: me | April 7, 2007 1:53 AM | Report abuse

Just to temper the argument a bit -- It seems the MAC people have forgotten there are at least nine versions of the the current OS that are incompatible with a long trail of now obsolete MAC hardware, not to mention now impossible to find applications. Buying a new OS from MS every now and then is not as bad as having to buy a new OS AND Hardware package from Apple every two years.

Linux simply does not yet have a desktop or office suite that the "average" user feels comfortable with. Why should it -- nobody but IBM has invested any real money in Linux.

Posted by: Responding | April 7, 2007 11:58 AM | Report abuse

The more I read about Vista

The more I like W2K.


Posted by: ZM | April 7, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

As we all know Bill Gates is a money and monopolier, Vista is the last step
in owning the internet for Gates, your lisence is for the use of the software not
to own it, this makes an opportunity for Bill to change anything and do anything
with his software. Like soon Vista will give notice to users that to continue
useing his software on the internet, you will have to pay for user rights, other
words Use it at home all you like, but on the internet you have to pay for internet
time by useing Vista software online. This is built into Vista with a timegard to
go off in 3 years. I found this out and checked it my self to be true.
And he can do this becouse he owns the software. Earler Ver of Windows are timed
to hit the Microsoft site once a month or more even if you make Yahoo your home page.
Earler software hits the Microsoft site and downloads a Kill software that
will create problums from time to time as you use it, like Iligal operations and
blue screen of death. This is all legal becouse he owns the software. Plus
once you upgrade, he knows everything you have on your hard drive and your personal info
if you keep it on the hard drive. I found this by accident. I created a software to
monitor files on the computer to see what files are not used in order to clean up
the system, every night a read my log on software use and found that every time
I hit microsoft to check for updates I find files on the system that are read
by microsoft, my personal files. to test this I made a text file called MSPasswords.txt
then hit microsoft, the file was not hit, so I waited about a week then hit microsoft
again and Nothin, I then thought I was wrong and gave up, one month latter in the
logs I read that my file was read by microsoft on the 4th hit. Wow, how did microsoft
know about the file I made unless it scanned my computer. btw. It only had "Not very
nice to steal files" in the file I made. But this goes to show no file is safe from
prying eyes. Now I use a Mac for my personal stuff and a Microsoft pc for internet with windows 95 just to search the internet when there is a problum I just auto reload the
system. Oh and btw, how many times will you upgrade.. Win 3.0, 3.1, 3.11, 95, 95a-b-c,
98, 98se, 98me, Xp, Vista and who will know whats next. Try before you buy, should
read try before you pay to use.

Posted by: Vista R. | April 8, 2007 9:34 AM | Report abuse


I think this is about the lamest and cliche ridden computer discussion I've just about ever read. These are your readers? It reads more like a program that searched and grabbed text from the web over the past ten plus years and updated it to fit the release of Vista.

So many guns shooting, so many targets missed.

Posted by: JB | April 8, 2007 11:05 AM | Report abuse

This is just dumb - this is like trolling apple user forums and raising judgements about any problems that mac users have (and they do). Protection of intellectual property keeps the american economy moving. I assume knowing that they are some 300 million MS window users in the world, a hand full of problems, is a reason for MS to drop trying to protect illegal copies of it's software. This is just such a dumb entry, I can't even believe I am commenting on it.

Posted by: Hareesh | April 9, 2007 12:45 PM | Report abuse


Some of these posts are, indeed, a little... poetic with the truth. OTOH, if you want to see some real vitriol, check out the Ars Technica discussion going on about this piece.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | April 9, 2007 5:30 PM | Report abuse

"I'm just sayin..."

i LIKE that!

Posted by: bill | April 16, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

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