Are you concerned about the latest Windows Activation update?

This week, Microsoft’s latest update to its Windows Activation technologies started appearing on Windows 7 machines via Windows Update. I’ve written about it at ZDNet:

Does that new Windows Activation update really ‘phone home’?

I completely understand why people don’t like activation. It can be a nuisance, although in practice it is a non-issue for most people. If your system is flagged as "non-genuine" and you have to go through the hassle of reactivating it over the phone, that’s 5-10 minutes of your life you’ll never get back. It happens to me occasionally when I restore a backup to a system after performing a major hardware upgrade. And I have never, ever had an issue with reactivating a Windows system over the phone.

In fact, my research shows that the incidence of false positives associated with Windows activation and validation has dropped dramatically in the four years since Windows Genuine Advantage was introduced. The rate of false positives used to be unacceptably high, now it’s barely noticeable and usually explainable (malware and pirated software is the most common explanation). If you have a different story to tell, please let me know in the comments, but be aware I will need full details to (via e-mail) to follow up properly.

Anyway, the story with the latest update is that there’s really nothing new to see. The KB971033 update doesn’t check your system to see whether you’re a pirate; it checks the integrity of the Windows system files to ensure that they haven’t been tampered with. It’s looking for known activation exploits, which can be used by rogue system builders to foist pirated software on unsuspecting customers. Microsoft released similar updates in February 2008 and February 2009 for Windows Vista. The only thing that’s different here is that this one downloads revised signatures every 90 days.

16 thoughts on “Are you concerned about the latest Windows Activation update?

  1. Ed, as you know, I am not a fan of this wretched technology. I think if it fails once for anybody then Microsoft has failed. This is an unacceptable imposition on Microsoft’s customers.

    I was bitten with a Vista box a couple of years ago when the Microsoft WGA server went down on a Sunday. I also have a false positive from time to time on my current main Windows 7 Ultimate machine.

    Separately, I just had to deal with the WGA issue on two of my client’s boxes with valid product numbers and COAs that Microsoft mistakenly identified as not genuine. Fortunately, I could get it fixed but as a valid license holder I and my clients should never, let me repeat myself, NEVER be subjected to the false accusation and waste of time and resource, especially without recompense from Microsoft.

    Just because few people are subjected to mistaken WGA accusations does not justify this. Not in my book, anyway.

    1. So, Richard, how do yu think Microsoft should respond to piracy and especially widespread activation exploits?

      PS: I would like more details on the non-genuine errors your clients had. You know how to find me via e-mail.

  2. How Microsoft responds to piracy is not my problem, at least it shouldn’t be. I am not a pirate, nor is my client but Microsoft falsely accused and inconvenienced us.

    I know what we have been subjected to is not right. Microsoft’s solution to piracy is a failure for me and my clients. How many pirates has this stopped? I should be sharing in Microsoft’s revenue gain since this has cost me.

    Will try to send details about the client WGA incident by email later today.

  3. The problem I see is that since Microsoft implemented product activation in Windows XP, other software companies have followed suit. Unfortunately, although you are correct that MS does a pretty good job keeping their implementation unobtrusive, other companies have not.

    For example, Intuit requires registration along with activation and, from what I’ve seen with the newest version, no longer allows activation over the Internet. You must actually call and speak to someone and give them tons of information on the company and it takes quite a long time. I have a client that recently had a computer die and we replaced it with a new one. We clean installed QuickBooks and restored the data file from backup, all of which was fairly painless. Then, I had to spend the next 45 minutes on the phone with Intuit. My client was paying my hourly rate to watch me fight through the activation process that Intuit has implemented. Not good.

    Microsoft started the trend of product activation and they’ve made it an acceptable practice in the software industry. Unfortunately, other companies have taken it and made it much worse. Plus, don’t even get me started as to what happens in the future as some of these companies are either no longer in business or, even worse, refuse to activate older versions and require you to upgrade. You’ll be stuck with software you purchased that simply doesn’t work.

  4. Doesn’t bother me at all. I once had to phone to get my Media Center PC re-activated, after a day of turning the RAID controller on and off multiple times — RAID in home environments causes more problems than it solves! — but even though that was late-night and a weekend I got through to someone immediately and the problem was solved in a matter of minutes.

    Some DRM systems go too far and I won’t put up with absolutely anything, but I’m happy to use the Windows DRM/activation. I didn’t bother “dodging” the update as I’d rather have a standard system and knew the chance of it causing a problem was next to zero, and the chance of that problem lasting more than 5 minutes was even closer to zero.

  5. “So, Richard, how do yu think Microsoft should respond to piracy and especially widespread activation exploits?”

    The same way they did before Activation and the same way any decent PC developer does, by keeping prices low and making good software.

    Also a free Windows SKU wouldn’t hurt.

  6. I’ve been using Windows forever, and have never had a problem with valid authenticity checks by Microsoft. I understand for the people who have, but it really does seem to be a statistically small number. I think Microsoft is doing a fantastic job overall, and believe me, it’s a MUCH bigger nuissance/hassle for the people they are targeting that for the few legitimate ones it makes a mistake on.

    It makes me feel good Microsoft is making life difficult for those who think it’s OK to wholesale steal from them. I fully support their efforts. And I am no way associated with or an employee of Microsoft. Just a regular Joe consumer.

  7. DosFreak makes an absolutely brilliant point: if Microsoft didn’t charge for Windows, then people wouldn’t pirate it.

  8. I am much more infuriated by the screens that come up at the beginning of every DVD I watch at home that basically accuse me of being a pirate.

  9. Microsoft have taken a fair bit of heat for Windows activation but I think they on the right track and it has improved over time. Never had a drama with phone activation either.

  10. I’m more concerned that the RC version of Windows 7 is going to expire in a couple days. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me now… 😦

  11. Dear Mr. Ed Bott,

    I would like to ask you a thing in private.

    How can I contact you?

    Best Regards,
    F. Bux

  12. I can take the Genuine Activation update, but why do they interrupt the Windows Update procedure to tell you how great it is? A large part of my work is reinstalling Windows XP on machines that have been compromised. Install SP-3 and Office and you will have 90+ updates. Start it up, and half-way through the Genuine Advantage update stops the process waiting for you to click “Next”. It is quite frustrating.

  13. Regarding activation of software, moving an Adobe product form one PC to a new one is a nightmare scenario. I hope I never have to do that again. And reinstalling XP is also what I do most often – there is an interruption in the install process as well…at a company you can do an answer file but not at someone’s house. Dialogs should come at the very beginning or end, but I’m not a programmer.

  14. Hi Ed,

    Great post and thanks for doing some research on the topic.
    I actually posted your question and link on our @CIOsConnect Twitter account since I am curious too.

    Let us know what you find and see you on Twitter.

    Microsoft Windows Client Team

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