This is all part of Microsoft’s fight against software piracy. With Windows XP, the amount of discomfort that an illegal software user (or a legal software user who is having problems with Microsoft’s license validation service) suffers is minimal. The company said, however, that it’s going to crank it up a notch with the forthcoming Windows Vista: If Microsoft thinks that your license is invalid, you’re hosed. First, some features of the OS will turn off. But after 30 days, your applications won’t run, you won’t be able to get at your disk files, and your machine will be as good as dead dead dead. Read the company’s Oct. 4, 2006 announcement, disguised as a puff-piece interview:
To quote from that announcement:
Reduced functionality mode in Windows Vista will allow the user to use the browser after the reduced functionality mode has begun. Reduced functionality mode can occur as a result of failed product activation or of that copy being identified as counterfeit or non-genuine. In most cases customers will be able to correct this situation quickly with the options provided. With the tools in place for OEMs, and small to large customers, we expect that most customers should never be affected by having a non-genuine installation.
What if there’s a problem? According to Microsoft’s Cori Hartje, director of the “genuine software initiative,” Windows Vista will solve it for you!
Customers will be able to easily determine the status of their Windows Vista installations. In the System Properties panel of the Windows Vista Control Panel, Windows Vista will display the genuine status of the installed copy of Windows Vista. From there, and from any screen notifying users of a failed validation, a user will be able to obtain more information on why the copy of Windows is not genuine, as well as resources for getting a genuine copy.
In other words, if the System Properties report that the software is not genuine, then it’s not genuine. Period. Those “resources” will be places where you can buy, or rebuy, the software. Judge, jury and executioner, all in software that essentially tells the consumer that if Microsoft’s code says you’re guilty, then you’re guilty.
Microsoft has been working on this for some time. It’s been a disaster with Windows XP, and there’s no reason to think that it’s going to be flawless with Windows Vista. Microsoft’s support forums have been filled with posts from customers whose “validated” Windows XP installations suddenly failed the company’s occasional re-validation tests, due to a software crash, deletion of a key file by disk utilities, or who-knows-what. Read Ed Bott’s excellent series on this on ZDNet, “Busted! What happens when WGA attacks.“
The Hippocratic Oath says that one should do no harm. Yet, by telling its legitimate customers that if the software says they have pirated code, they have no choice but to rebuy it, there’s a presumption of guilt. That’s fundamentally wrong. Microsoft should abandon this project until there’s a way to ensure that there’s a presumption of innocence, not guilt. To behave otherwise is fundamentally unfair, and I believe will be a technological and PR disaster for the firm.
Remember the nightmare with Sony’s CD anti-piracy software, you know, the one that disabled device drivers and opened up machines to backdoor rootkits. This is going to be even worse.
Microsoft’s Hartje concluded, “Software piracy is not a victimless crime.” She’s right: The victims are Microsoft’s customers. Stay away from Windows Vista, until Microsoft rescinds this ill-considered and unfair policy.