Weekend WGA Failure Locked Out Legit Windows Vista Users

A server problem at Microsoft over the weekend caused the company’s Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation system to falsely accuse legitimate users of Windows Vista and XP of running pirated software, resulting in the disbanding of some features for those users until the problem was fixed.

The problem began around 8 p.m. Friday, causing users to begin posting messages about it on Microsoft’s forums. Vista’s Aero graphical interface was among the features disabled for users accused of running pirated software, and user frustration reached significant levels before the problem was fixed.

At one point, Phil Liu, a Microsoft program manager in the Windows Genuine Advantage group, had to remind posters of the language policy that is part of the forums’ terms of use.

“Please use acceptable language,” Liu said. “While many of these forum posts are cross-linked throughout many several news/blogs/etc. I would prefer not to remove posts for inappropriate content at this time as it is very important for me to ensure everyone knows that we are working to resolve this issue.”

Cause Unknown

By about 3 p.m. EDT on Saturday, the problem was fixed and affected users were instructed to revalidate at The cause, however, is still not entirely clear. “I know you all are looking for an explanation/root-cause,” Liu wrote. “We are aware it is a server-side issue — the cause is unknown at this current time.”

Though the problems lasted only some 19 hours on a weekend, users did not seem inclined to forgive Microsoft for the inconvenience.

“I was and still am quite mad at Microsoft,” wrote michaelosity. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to switch to a Mac because of it. I certainly don’t feel like I’ve been rewarded for being a good citizen and actually buying my copy of Windows.

“Microsoft just doesn’t understand how WGA affects real customers that are legally trying to use their software,” michaelosity added. “I appreciate that this happens rarely and that they need to make money, but that money doesn’t have to come from me anymore.”

Pirates’ Advantage

Other users pointed out the irony that the validation software actually gave users of pirated software an advantage during the outage.

“You really ought to work on making WGA actually an advantage,” wrote a user named mhornyak. “Right now, users of pirate copies of Windows had an extra couple days of use.”

WGA has been controversial since Microsoft implemented it roughly two years ago in the hopes of stemming the widespread piracy of its applications. It checks users’ PCs and sends data back to Microsoft to ensure licenses are valid.

Users have vociferously protested the technology, with some even filing class action lawsuits against Microsoft last year for what they claimed is essentially a form of spyware that violates consumer protection laws.

Bad Timing

“It’s very unfortunate,” Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio told TechNewsWorld. “There’s no doubt Microsoft has the right to protect its intellectual property, but they can’t have it causing problems for customers. Microsoft is so ubiquitous, this will bite a lot of people.”

The timing of the problem is particularly unfortunate given the recent host of widely publicized glitches that have been plaguing Vista, DiDio added.

Indeed, “Vista has been pulling bad news like a magnet pulls iron,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “This is just one more thing on top of what has been string of bad news for that product. They clearly will fix it as fast as they can, but this doesn’t help move more product.”

Reverse Effect

Beyond the negative publicity, the problem could have a reverse, and unintended, effect, DiDio noted, echoing the comments of several users.

“Honest people could ask why they’re bothering to be honest,” DiDio explained. “This could have the unintended consequence of turning people to the dark side, as they throw up their hands and say, ‘I tried.'”

In the future, Microsoft will have to be more vigilant, DiDio concluded. “There’s no doubt the people working on WGA are doing their best, but now people are asking if their best is good enough,” she said. “When you’re Microsoft, the bar is higher.”

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