Microsoft to cut WGA ‘kill switch’ out of Vista

Brian livingston By Brian Livingston

Microsoft has announced significant changes to its trouble-prone Windows Genuine Advantage technology, beginning with the upcoming Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista.

Unlike Vista’s behavior today, WGA will not disable functions of Vista SP1 if the instance is seen as “nongenuine,” but will instead merely display hourly nag screens inviting users to buy another copy.

Reduced-functionality mode proves problematic

Microsoft announced its changes in WGA only days after Windows Secrets associate editor Scott Dunn published a lead story on Nov. 29 describing problems that have remained in the technology since it was introduced. Among other issues, numerous reports of valid copies of Windows being misidentified by WGA have surfaced. More than 500,000 “false positives” are acknowledged in Microsoft’s own figures, according to a Computerworld article by Gregg Keizer published almost a year ago on Jan. 23, 2007.

Currently, if an instance of Windows Vista is found by WGA to be “nongenuine,” a number of features are disabled. This includes the Aero user interface, Windows ReadyBoost, and portions of Windows Defender.

If users don’t resolve the matter within 30 days, “reduced-functionality mode” takes over, crippling nearly every Windows function except the browser. This is also known as the Vista “kill switch.” This mode continues for an hour, after which the user is logged out without warning. (WGA is often downloaded and installed by XP users, too, who are required to run it to get some Microsoft downloads. But the negative consequences of failing WGA validation are not as severe as with Vista.)

The Draconian measures will be history for those who install Vista SP1, which is expected in the first quarter of 2008, according to a report in Computerworld.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2007-12-06: